By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo is expected to make his NFL regular-season debut Sunday when the Browns visit the Baltimore Ravens.
“He has been cleared to play,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Wednesday.
Mingo missed the final two preseason games and the season-opening 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday with a bruised lung.
“I feel better knowing that I’m able to play if I’m called upon,” said Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft from Louisiana State University. “I feel I bring a lot to this team, and the coaches can use me in different ways. I think that’s the best part about it. I’m ready to get it done and just ready to play.”
Mingo was diagnosed with a bruised lung Aug. 15 after he left an exhibition game against the Detroit Lions because he was spitting up blood and experiencing shortness of breath. He was taken to the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus during the game and spent two nights there. Mingo believes he suffered the unusual injury during the opening kickoff against the Lions, even though he cannot identify a specific big hit as the cause.
Last week, Mingo participated in practice on a limited basis. He sat out contact drills, including ones in which his teammates hit blocking sleds and tackling dummies. But Mingo hit the blocking sled Wednesday and participated in a punting drill during the 30-minute portion of practice open to the media, though he was listed as limited on the injury report.
Mingo said he’s not afraid to hit again, but he conceded his mother, Barbara Johnson, is concerned.
“She was worried. She still is,” Mingo said. “She asks me every day how am I doing. I just have to let her know that I’m doing good, I feel good, the coaches and the doctors both agree that I’m able to play, I’m ready to play, so I think she’ll be OK.”
Mingo is a backup outside linebacker who’s expected to receive significant playing time this season as a situational pass rusher. The starting outside linebackers are Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger, who will serve as a game captain this week after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Ravens.
The Browns tallied four sacks against the Dolphins, and they’re eager to see how much Mingo can augment their defensive attack.
“He’s an excellent player,” starting defensive end Desmond Bryant said. “He’s young. He’s a little bit raw still, but he knows how to make plays. He’s got the physicality and the quickness to go out there and do his thing. Adding him to what we already established last week is just going to make us that much more fearsome.”
Chudzinski said the Browns will continue to experiment with Mingo on special teams, too. Mingo said his role Sunday will consist of whatever the coaches ask him to do.
“I’m just ready to play, hit, no hit, tackle, sack, it doesn’t matter,” Mingo said. “I’m just ready to get back out on the field.
“I was at the game [Sunday]. It was tough to sit down there and watch. You want to be out there. You want to be able to help the team win.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh conceded that it’ll be tough to prepare for Mingo because there’s not much film of him in the NFL.
“That would be a big challenge for us,” Harbaugh said Wednesday during a conference call. “We know him from the draft. That’s all we really have. He seems like a really talented guy.”
Although Mingo’s teammates have seen him in just two preseason games, they’re convinced he’s a special player.
“Any time you’ve got your first-round draft pick like Mingo, somebody explosive and able to go out there and make plays on any given snap, it’s exciting to have him,” free safety Tashaun Gipson said. “That just gives us another threat.”
Other injury updates
Strong safety T.J. Ward (shoulder), defensive end Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and right guard Shawn Lauvao (high ankle sprain) didn’t practice Wednesday.
Ward and Rubin worked out on stationary bikes. Lauvao was not on the practice field. Rubin and Lauvao were sidelined in the opener.
Chudzinski described Ward as “sore.” Ward injured his shoulder when he collided with Dolphins tight end Charles Clay in the first quarter after Clay caught a 20-yard pass.
“It’s been feeling better every day,” Ward said. “I’m pretty positive about the injury.”
If Ward cannot play Sunday, either Johnson Bademosi or undrafted rookie Josh Aubrey will start in his place alongside Gipson.
“If T.J. can’t go, and that’s not even a question, I know T.J.’s going to be ready to go Sunday, but hypothetically if that happens, we’ve got guys that are willing to step up,” Gipson said. “We’ve got guys who can fill a void, and I feel like I’m comfortable back there playing with anybody they put me next to.”
Lauvao said he has been out of a walking boot for about a week. When asked if he’ll be able to practice this week, Lauvao said, “We’ll see how it goes.”
In addition to Mingo, wide receiver Travis Benjamin (thigh) and cornerback Buster Skrine (shoulder) were limited.
The Ravens ruled out wide receiver Jacoby Jones (knee). Center Ryan Jensen (foot), wide receiver Deonte Thompson (foot) and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (toe) did not practice. Defensive tackle Art Jones (illness) and running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) were limited, and offensive tackle Michael Oher (ankle) fully participated.
Chudzinski said he’ll give running back Bobby Rainey another shot as the team’s kickoff returner.
“We’ll stick with Rainey,” Chudzinski said. “We do have some other guys and some other options. We have some flexibility there.”
Rainey brought four kickoffs out of the end zone Sunday and returned them for 103 yards (25.8 average). But he only crossed the 20-yard line once.
Bryant tied a career high Sunday with two sacks and extended his streak to five consecutive games with at least one sack dating to last season while he was a member of the Oakland Raiders. In March, Bryant signed a five-year $34 million deal with the Browns.
Bryant’s regular-season debut with the Browns was especially impressive because he missed most of training camp while dealing with back spasms. Bryant, though, isn’t satisfied.
“My expectation is to play at a high level every time I step on the field, so I can’t say I’m surprised that happened,” Bryant said. “I did a lot of good things, but there’s also a lot of things I wish I could take back and I could’ve done better. I’m just working to be the best player I am. There was one play I missed an assignment. There’s a couple more plays where if I could’ve gotten off the block a little faster, I could have made the play.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.