CLEVELAND: The ball squirted away from Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on a botched snap and began tumbling backward. Barkevious Mingo saw it flopping around and sprinted after it.
He barely missed the fumble recovery because Bengals running back Giovani Bernard fell on it a split-second sooner, but Mingo flashed the type of closing speed typically reserved for cornerbacks.
In his first NFL start, Mingo shined again for the Browns with four tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. He became the first Browns player in franchise history to record a sack in each of his first three NFL games and the first to do it in the league since the Oakland Raiders’ Tommy Kelly in 2004, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
But it was his blazing speed on the near fumble recovery that grabbed everyone’s attention in the Browns’ locker room.
“He’s probably one of the fastest guys on the team,” Phil Taylor said, knowing full well Mingo is an outside linebacker/defensive end and that most of the fast guys play on the outside. “He’s a quick guy, he’s young and he’s learning how to be a great player in this league.”
Added Joe Haden: “I legitimately think he might be a 4.4 [in the 40-yard dash].”
Jabaal Sheard’s sprained knee forced Mingo into the starting lineup. Now the Browns might have a hard time getting him out.
He burst through the line to corral Dalton for his sack late in the first quarter, then tipped a third-down pass deep in Browns territory in the second quarter that Tyler Eifert still managed to catch, although the Browns’ defense dragged him down short of the first down. They got off the field on the next play with an impressive fourth-down stop, preserving the 7-3 lead.
He was able to catch Dalton’s foot on a third-down run in the third quarter, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal and another tipped pass at the line was negated by a personal foul call on Buster Skrine.
“The guys has a motor, he has exceptional speed and he has a knack for getting after the passer and batted balls,” D’Qwell Jackson said. “You saw a little bit of that today.”
The Browns drafted Mingo sixth overall primarily because of his blazing speed and ability to rush the passer. He missed the first game while recovering from a bruised lung suffered in the preseason but is fully healthy now. All those questions about not being heavy enough to play in the NFL have dissipated, too, under his flurry of sacks.
Defensive players often talk about trying to get at least one sack a game. Thus far, Mingo is 3 for 3 and on pace for 15.
“I hope he has 50 sacks this season,” Paul Kruger said. “The guy is just an unbelievable athlete. He does everything right. He’s just one of those special guys. I’m really grateful to have him on our team.”
Mingo gave a dismissive laugh when he learned Taylor thought he might be one of the fastest players on the team.
“I don’t know. We have Travis Benjamin, Joe Haden, C.O. [Chris Owens], those guys are blazers,” Mingo said. “I’m not going to turn down a compliment, but I know that we have some blazers on this team.”
Now Mingo is one of them.
He spent Sunday banging against Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who served as a mentor to Mingo in earlier years. The two attended the same high school and Mingo followed Whitworth to LSU. They chatted briefly after the game, which marked the first of many times they’ll now face each other as divisional opponents.
“He said he was proud of me, good luck and that I played a good game,” Mingo said. “Coming from him, that was big.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.