By Ryan Lewis
and Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writers
BEREA: The Browns made new coach Mike Pettine and all three coordinators available to the media for the first time Thursday. They officially announced the hiring of 11 assistant coaches, but the winner of the day might have been Barkevious Mingo, the first-round pick last year.
New defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, who worked as the Buffalo Bills’ linebackers coach under Pettine last season, was a fan of Mingo’s before last April’s draft, when he was invited to Buffalo for one of the Bills’ 30 official visits.
O’Neil’s wife was a fan of Mingo’s as well, and even made “Mingo cupcakes” (which were different flavors and had “Mingo” written on top) for the Bills’ decision-makers in an effort to persuade them to select the talented pass rusher from Louisiana State.
But the Browns took Mingo sixth overall and the Bills ended up trading down eight spots to No. 16 to take quarterback EJ Manuel. Now, O’Neil and Mingo have come full circle.
“I’m looking forward to working with him [Mingo],” O’Neil said Thursday. “He did a lot of good things. He’s obviously a young player, he’s got some things to work on but we’re excited as a defensive staff to get him back here and start working with him.”
One of O’Neil’s first challenges as defensive coordinator, especially coming from a background of coaching linebackers, is to get the most out of Mingo, who had a disappointing rookie season with five sacks and 42 tackles.
Pettine later alluded to having Mingo put on some weight to best fit the NFL game. Mingo is listed at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds.
“He is a lean, angular guy, and the NFL is a size and speed league,” Pettine said. “If he has the frame capable of carrying more weight, which I think it’s pretty clear that he does, that’s something we’re going to push for him to do.”
Pettine on Thursday also reiterated how he envisions the way he and O’Neil will work together on the Browns’ defense.
When Pettine was a defensive coordinator with Rex Ryan and the New York Jets, Ryan, at first, called the plays and eventually handed them over to Pettine. It’ll be a similar situation with the Browns.
“I’ve even used the phrase that it’s like training wheels,” Pettine said. “We might even get to the point during the season where I might call first and second down and he might have the third-down call ready to go.”
The two are familiar with each other after all, having spent the past five seasons together with the Jets and Bills. O’Neil also played for Pettine’s father at Central Bucks High School West, which garnered a good amount of trust from the beginning.
“That gave [O’Neil] instant credibility with me because that meant to me he had thick skin,” Pettine said. “If he could handle playing for him, it meant he could handle just about anything I could throw at him. Don’t let his baby face fool you.”
Another point of emphasis for O’Neil will be to work with Paul Kruger, who finished 2013 with just 4½ sacks. O’Neil said he hasn’t fully evaluated the defense yet, but that there are other ways to be productive while having lower sack numbers, which might have been the case with Kruger.
Mingo and Kruger might see more one-on-one blocks in 2014, as Pettine and O’Neil’s defense is geared toward being unpredictable.
“Our philosophy has always been to be multiple and create confusion for the offensive side of the ball and that really allows the group up front to get a lot of one-on-one blocks,” O’Neil said. “And that’s where you want guys like Mingo, Kruger, [Jabaal] Sheard, all of those pass rusher-type guys. And that’s what they want.”
Rounding out staff
The Browns announced the addition of 11 assistants, including running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery and wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel. Most of the other hires were previously reported.
Montgomery, 59, spent the past six seasons with the Ravens before parting ways with the organization last month. The Ravens ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing offense last season with running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce slowed by injuries.
Rice finished last season with only 660 yards rushing. He had more than 1,000 yards rushing the previous four seasons and made three Pro Bowls under Montgomery’s guidance.
“Wilbert’s proven himself,” said Pettine, whose last season as the Ravens’ outside linebackers coach in 2008 was Montgomery’s first with the organization. “He’s been in this league for a long time, and he is as good a running backs coach as is out there and I’m blessed to be able to hire [him]. He’s tough. He’s a guy that will bring that degree of toughness we’re looking for to the room.”
Before joining the Ravens, Montgomery spent two seasons (2006-07) as the Detroit Lions’ running backs coach. He coached the St. Louis Rams’ running backs from 1997-99 and 2003-05 and their tight ends from 2000-02.
Montgomery was a two-time Pro Bowl running back with the Philadelphia Eagles (1978-79) and holds the franchise’s all-time rushing record with 6,538 yards.
McDaniel, 30, has been a sidekick of new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan throughout his career. He spent the past three seasons with Shanahan and the Washington Redskins, serving as a wide receivers coach last season and an offensive assistant from 2011-12. He’s one of several assistants whom the Redskins fired along with Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, the team’s former head coach, after they went 3-13 last season.
McDaniel also spent three seasons (2006-08) as an offensive assistant with the Houston Texans. Shanahan was with the Texans from 2006-09, including the final two as their coordinator.
The Browns also announced the following hires: George DeLeone (assistant offensive line coach), Chris DiSanto (assistant strength and conditioning coach), Richard Hightower (offensive quality control coach), Dowell Loggains (quarterbacks coach), Derik Keyes (assistant strength and conditioning coach), Andy Moeller (offensive line coach), Paul Ricci (strength and conditioning coach), Tony Tuioti (defensive quality control coach) and Anthony Weaver (defensive line coach).
Pettine said some of the offensive assistants, including Loggains, Moeller and tight ends coach Brian Angelichio, were hired before Shanahan was named offensive coordinator Monday because he didn’t want to lose them to other teams. Shanahan said he doesn’t have an issue with the way the staff was constructed.
“I purposely held spots open that Kyle and I could bring guys in and interview, then come to a consensus decision,” Pettine said. “So he felt comfortable he had guys that he was good with on the staff mixed with the guys we had already hired.”
Pettine said he might make another hire or two, but his staff is pretty much complete.
Pettine said Thursday that he’s glad to have retained special teams coordinator Chris Tabor from the previous regime, and he said Tabor had “a number of [interview] requests that came in for him after the season.”
Tabor has been the Browns’ special teams coordinator since 2011 and is thankful to be able to remain in Cleveland.
“I think it says the good Lord is watching over me, to be honest,” Tabor said. “No, I think I’m fortunate. … For me and my family to have the opportunity to stay here again and work for another head coach, I feel very fortunate that the organization is giving me that opportunity.”
Kiper on Browns, QBs
On a conference call Thursday, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said he would be surprised if the Browns ended up drafting Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, indicating that he thinks Manziel will be off the board by the Browns’ No. 4 selection.
“For Cleveland, to see Manziel there would be a surprise to me,” Kiper said. “When you talk to people in the league, he’s kind of the consensus No. 1 quarterback. [Central Florida quarterback Blake] Bortles, [Louisville quarterback Teddy] Bridgewater, there’s mixed opinion on. … I can see [Manziel] going No. 1 [to Houston] or No. 3 [to Jacksonville].” Kiper has the Browns selecting Bridgewater at No. 4 in his latest mock draft, and he compared him to former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who played for the Eagles when Browns CEO Joe Banner was in Philadelphia.
“You see some similarities with McNabb and Bridgewater. Not 10 similarities, but enough to say maybe Bridgewater would make sense. I heard Cleveland maybe has a pretty good opinion on Bridgewater,” Kiper said.
As a second scenario, Kiper said the Browns might look to Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 4 and then take a quarterback, be it Fresno State’s Derek Carr or Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, at No. 26 overall, the pick the Browns got from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for running back Trent Richardson.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ. Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns.