BEREA: Tyrann Mathieu’s jaw often dropped as he watched Browns rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, his former college teammate, practice at Louisiana State University.
“I’ve seen him basically shake a double team off the line of scrimmage, get to the quarterback — and you know we can’t touch quarterbacks in practice — so he jumps so high in the air and just tips the ball, and he catches it himself,” Mathieu said Friday during the NFL Rookie Symposium’s youth football clinic at the Browns’ headquarters. “That was one of those moments for me when I was on the sideline just watching and I’m like, ‘That’s a hall of famer-type play.’ ”
The Browns selected Mingo with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, and they’re counting on him to become an elite pass rusher in defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s attack-style, 3-4, multifront scheme.
If the opinions of Mingo’s former LSU teammates and a couple of notable opponents are any indication, the Browns will be pleased with their top selection.
Mathieu wasn’t the only one who gave Mingo, otherwise known by his nickname, KeKe, rave reviews during the symposium.
“He’s just blessed,” said former LSU free safety Eric Reid, whom the San Francisco 49ers selected 18th overall. “God gave him a gift. I’m glad he was on my team. The thing that I honestly did every week was look at the opponents’ offensive line because I knew what kind of game it was going to be based off of how our defensive line was. He set the tone for our defense along with the other guys on the line. Y’all are blessed to have a player like Mingo.”
Mingo didn’t play football until his junior season at West Monroe High School in Louisiana because his mother, Barbara Johnson, didn’t want him to get hurt and basketball was his first love. But once some coaches and administrators at the school convinced Mingo to try football, he instantly became dominant.
Mathieu, a third-round pick who’s switching to free safety for the Arizona Cardinals after primarily playing cornerback at LSU, is convinced Mingo’s innate abilities are virtually unmatched.
“I’ve never played with anybody as freakish as him,” Mathieu said. “He’s a natural. He’s all natural. He’s not the biggest guy. He’s not the strongest guy. But he’s the most athletic one out of the bunch. So he’s going to make some great plays in a Browns uniform.”
The 6-foot-4, 237-pound Mingo will need his athletic prowess to conquer the transition he’s being asked to make with the Browns. Although Mingo played defensive end at LSU, Horton has moved him to outside linebacker.
So will he miss a beat at his new position?
“Not at all,” said former LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan, a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. “The guy’s an athlete. I think he could play safety if they taught him the skill and the technique of how to play safety. He’s fast. He’s quick. He’s mobile. He can move anywhere. He can play all over the field. Just because he’s moving to linebacker in a 3-4 defense, it doesn’t mean anything. He’s fluid at dropping his hips, so I think it’s going to be a good transition for him.”
Mingo, who plans to report to training camp in mid-July at about 240 pounds, has spent this offseason practicing mostly with the second-team defense while fellow outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard have worked with the first unit. Mingo, though, has made it known he’s aiming to crack the starting lineup as a rookie.
Regardless of Mingo’s role or position, Reid can’t fathom his friend struggling as a rookie.
“I know his dedication,” Reid said. “I know his work [ethic] from playing with him for three years. I know the scouts told him he needed to put on weight, so I know that’s something that he’ll work on. We’re all professionals. We all want to get better at what we want to do. I fully expect him to have a great season.”
Even some of Mingo’s greatest adversaries — offensive tackles D.J. Fluker and Luke Joeckel — expect him to thrive in the NFL.
When asked who stood out as the best defensive lineman he faced during his career at Alabama, Fluker said: “Mingo stood out to me the most. Fast, loves to put pressure on the quarterback. He loves hand movement, loves to get his hands out there.”
Fluker, whom the San Diego Chargers picked 11th overall, faced Mingo three times in his career, and he learned firsthand Mingo is stronger than his lean frame suggests.
“He’s strong,” Fluker said. “[He’s] probably one of the strongest ends I went against all year.”
Joeckel, whom the Jacksonville Jaguars picked second overall out of Texas A&M, said Mingo ranks among the best past rushers he has ever faced.
“He’s definitely toward the top,” said Joeckel, who played Mingo twice in his career. “I saw a lot of good ones in the Big 12 and the SEC this year. Going into A&M, the first practice, the first guy I saw was [Denver Broncos All-Pro linebacker] Von Miller. That spring, going against Von — [Mingo] has kind of got that athleticism — but Von is a once-in-every-10-years type of player.”
In three seasons at LSU, Mingo compiled 15 sacks, including 4½ this past season. On the other hand, former Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, whom the Pittsburgh Steelers nabbed 17th overall, tallied 28 sacks the past two seasons.
Still, Reid said that LSU’s players knew before the 2012 season started that Mingo would become a top-10 pick, and that they’re convinced he’ll produce at an elite level.
“I don’t know a ton about Jarvis, but I do know about Mingo, and I know the type of ceiling that he has,” Reid said. “If he puts some weight on, a 6-5 linebacker running a 4.4, 4.5 [40-yard dash] is hard to handle. It’s hard to deal with. You can put him coverage. He’ll stop the run. That’s just the guy he is.”
Reid said Mingo is also a leader in the making for the Browns.
“He’s a great guy, a guy that I like to associate myself with, a guy that I hung out with off the field,” Reid said. “He’s a guy of high character. You won’t find any trouble with him. He comes to work every day.
“He definitely has a good sense of humor. He makes the day easy to go through. You’re practicing, you get tired at LSU with 100 degrees and humidity, and Mingo is joking around because he just forced a fumble. It’s like, ‘Man, now I’ve got to do something.’ That’s just the type atmosphere we had, especially when I played with him.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.