BEREA: The Browns picked Barkevious Mingo sixth overall in this year’s draft because they believe he can evolve into a pass-rushing force at outside linebacker, though his recruiting prowess could prove to be a valuable bonus.
Chris Faulk estimates he received interest as an undrafted free agent from about 20 NFL teams, but he signed with the Browns partly because he wanted to reunite with Mingo, one of his former teammates at Louisiana State University and one of his best friends. As an offensive left tackle, Faulk and Mingo, a defensive end in college, often engaged in memorable showdowns at practice.
But a devastating knee injury forced Faulk to miss virtually all of last season and prevented him from being drafted. He’s rehabilitating this weekend at the Browns’ headquarters while other incoming players are practicing during the team’s three-day rookie minicamp, which ends Sunday.
Mingo, though, is convinced Faulk is one of the best offensive tackles he has ever faced and believes the Browns got a bargain despite the medical concerns. Mingo insisted Faulk gave him a tougher test than two of the top-rated prospects at the position in this year’s draft — D.J. Fluker of the San Diego Chargers, the No. 11 overall pick from Alabama, and Luke Joeckel of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the No. 2 overall selection from Texas A&M.
“I’m not saying it just because he’s a teammate, but in my opinion, he was better than those guys,” Mingo said Saturday after practice.
So how did Faulk separate himself from them?
“From D.J., he was faster on his feet, more athletic,” Mingo said. “Joeckel is a very athletic guy as well, but I think Chris was just a stronger guy. He was a stronger body. He was stronger with his punch.”
Mingo’s high praise, however, won’t mean anything if Faulk cannot fully bounce back. During practice four days after LSU’s 2012 season opener, Faulk suffered torn medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee.
“Towards the back end of practice, we had a draw play,” Faulk said. “I kicked back, and one of our tackles pulled. As soon as I picked my right leg up, I got cut from behind. I felt the popping and everything.”
Doctors didn’t immediately realize there was an issue with the ACL, so Faulk had two surgeries a couple of weeks apart in October to repair his knee. He wasn’t sure at first whether he would be able to overcome the setback.
“It took time,” Faulk said. “Family, prayer and everything.”
Once Faulk believed he could make a successful comeback, rehab consumed him.
“He just got after it, and not only himself, but we had other guys that were down, too,” Mingo said. “He was pushing them. They went down before him. He was competing with them to get healthy faster. He couldn’t compete in the games, so that was his competition.”
When the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Faulk was on crutches, Mingo became his driver. They had to use Faulk’s truck because he couldn’t fit in Mingo’s car.
“I saved gas the whole time,” Mingo said with a laugh.
Faulk is confident he’ll be ready to practice by training camp, which begins in late July. Mingo said Faulk experienced the blues at times while missing most of his junior season, but he knew how to snap out of it and continue to pursue his goal.
“This injury is a major injury, and you just can’t sit up and let it heal on its own,” Faulk said. “You’ve got to say, ‘All right. It’s time to get busy. It’s time to start working.’ And that’s what I did.”
As a freshman at LSU, Faulk played 11 games at right tackle, earning the starting job for the final two. He then moved to left tackle and started 13 out of 14 games as a sophomore. Even after Faulk’s injury, NFLDraftScout.com ranked him as the No. 11 offensive tackle in this year’s draft and the No. 112 player overall.
Still, he went undrafted.
“I guess his injury kind of scared off a lot of people, but I’m glad he winded up here,” Mingo said.
Faulk could have gone back to school and tried to improve his draft stock, but he thought he progressed enough in his rehab to make the leap to the NFL this year.
“It was time for me to go,” he said. “It was a decision me and my family made, and it was the best thing for me.”
Even if Faulk can rebound from his injury in time to play this season, the Browns have Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz entrenched as starters.
The team could certainly use more help at guard than tackle, and Faulk might be able to work his way into the mix if all goes well with his recovery.
“I’m willing to go anywhere,” Faulk said. “For offensive line, you do the same thing. You block and protect your quarterback and open the holes for the running back. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. As long as you’re getting your job done, the line will be all right and the team will be good.”
If Mingo’s scouting report is accurate, Faulk is more than capable of getting the job done.
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.