By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo has only one sack in the past six games and has struggled in other facets of the game, but his teammates and defensive coordinator Ray Horton are nowhere close to writing off the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft as a bust.
“We put a lot on the young man, and he’s playing different positions for us,” Horton said Thursday before practice. “I’m happy with him, and I’m throwing a lot more at him this week also to be accountable.
“I expect a lot from him, and I’m challenging him off the field, meaning extra stuff to study and do more for us. But we’re pleased with where he’s at.”
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Mingo missed the season opener while recovering from a bruised lung suffered in an Aug. 15 exhibition game. He then burst onto the scene with a sack in each of his three regular-season games. However, he has added only one sack since and has four heading into Sunday, when the Browns (4-6) will face the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6) at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Mingo said. “This is the NFL. We’re going against tackles that are top of the league. I’m going against guys that are as good or close to Joe Thomas, and it’s not going to be easy. They’re not going to make it easy. They’re not going to let me hit the quarterback because they don’t get paid to let that happen, so it’s a different challenge. Every week’s a different challenge, and every week I have to be on my A-game to get those sacks.”
There is certainly a learning curve for Mingo’s transition from Louisiana State University to the NFL, but the bottom line is top-10 picks are expected to produce right away.
“We want more sacks,” Horton conceded.
Lapses in run defense were expected from Mingo as he switched from defensive end to outside linebacker in Horton’s 3-4, multifront scheme. Problems on special teams — Mingo blamed himself for a protection breakdown that led to a blocked punt Sunday in a 41-20 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals — can be prevented by better understanding assignments.
But rushing the passer is Mingo’s primary responsibility as a backup right outside linebacker, and he hasn’t delivered a sack since Oct. 27.
“Offensive lines are going to be studying players and when they see the things he can do, they’re going to come up with ways that they can counteract that,” defensive end Desmond Bryant said. “But it’s a trial-and-error thing with him. He’s got to learn how they’re going to try to attack him and learn new ways to beat what they’re going to do. It’s an ongoing battle as a D-lineman, as a rusher.”
Thomas, a six-time Pro Bowler, also believes offensive tackles have been able to adjust to Mingo because they have more film of him to study. Opponents will no longer be caught off guard by Mingo’s speed, so he must become more versatile.
“If you want to survive in this league as a pass rusher, you’ve got to have at least two or three moves because just about every offensive tackle in the league can block one or two,” Thomas said. “But the players that survive in the league a long time, they’ve got more than one move, and it’s unpredictable.”
The good news is the Browns still believe Mingo can evolve into the elite pass rusher they thought he could be when the organization drafted him.
“He’s one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen,” Bryant said. “So, absolutely, if he really works hard.”
All signs are pointing to backup inside linebacker Tank Carder replacing Craig Robertson in the starting lineup Sunday. Robertson has not practiced this week after suffering a sprained right knee this past weekend.
Carder, a core special-teams player in his second NFL season, has started only one game in his career, the 2012 finale against the Steelers. Still, he’s confident he can get the job done, even if he needs to cover two-time Pro Bowl tight end Heath Miller.
“I think I can play,” Carder said. “I think I’m a decent player. Hat’s off to Craig. He’s a hell of a football player. If it comes to where I have to go in, hopefully we have no drop-off at all and I can cover any of those guys.”
Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson isn’t worried.
“We have great faith in Tank,” Jackson said. “He has done a tremendous job for us. He contributes a lot on special teams. You want Craig to be out there, but he is nursing an injury right now. So if Tank’s number is called, I am more than confident that he can get it done.”
Bid shut down
Art Modell, the late owner of the Browns and Baltimore Ravens, is not among 25 modern-era semifinalists the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee has nominated for induction in 2014. The list was unveiled Wednesday night.
Modell, who died Sept. 6, 2012, at age 87, moved the Browns to Baltimore following the 1995 season. He won NFL titles with both franchises.
Last year, Modell was a finalist for hall of fame induction, but he failed to make the first cut from 15 to 10. The same thing happened in 2002, the only other time he was named a finalist. He was a semifinalist seven times between 2002 and 2012.
None of this year’s modern-era semifinalists is a former member of the Browns.
Robertson and rookie tight end MarQueis Gray (hamstring) did not practice Thursday. Rookie defensive end Armonty Bryant (back) was limited after sitting out Wednesday. … The Browns nominated Jackson for the NFL Salute to Service Award, which recognizes those who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community. Finalists for the award will be announced in January, and the winner will be recognized at the NFL Honors awards show Feb. 1.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.