BEREA — The future has arrived for Browns rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
The first-round pick is expected to make his first NFL start Sunday when Cleveland hosts the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium, taking the place of the injured Jabaal Sheard on the outside.
“It’s very exciting and I feel good about it,” the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder said Friday. “With whatever I’m called to do, I just prepare for it. I’ll be ready if I’m called upon to do it. If other guys are called to play a little bit more, I’m fine with it. I’m just going to keep working, no matter what.”
Despite suffering a bruised lung in an Aug. 15 preseason game against Detroit, the ultra-athletic Mingo has quickly caught up to his more experienced teammates.
The No. 6 overall pick in the NFL Draft made his debut two weeks ago in Baltimore, sacking quarterback Joe Flacco on his first pro snap while drawing a pair of holding penalties.
In Week 3 at Minnesota, Mingo also dropped Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, putting him just a half sack behind Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah for the league lead among rookies.
“For a rook, he’s doing a great job and he’s making plays,” Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant said. “You can’t say anything bad about the guy. He stepped in and did a great job at practice, and I think he’s going to continue to do so going forward.”
Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Ray Horton also praised the playmaking skills that Mingo has displayed in his first two games.
Both added that they have no concerns about “KeKe” stepping in for Sheard on a long-term basis, should the latter’s knee injury prove problematic.
“I think he’s really progressed, not just on the field, but as a player from that standpoint,” Chudzinski said. “He has tremendous conditioning — I haven’t worried about that — and he’s been getting more and more reps every week. He’s shown people why we were so high on him during the draft.”
Making Mingo’s initial NFL start even more memorable, he is likely to be matched up against one of his role models in Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
Whitworth and Mingo both attended West Monroe (La.) High — albeit a decade apart — and struck up a friendship during Mingo’s sophomore season. Whitworth even took the school’s basketball team out to dinner after they won a postseason game during one of his visits.
“Whit was a normal guy, easily approachable, and he was someone that people listened to when he came back,” said Mingo, who played prep football and basketball. “He’s done it the right way, he’s been doing it the right way, and my guess is he’s going to continue to do it the right way.”
Whitworth, a Pro Bowl selection and fellow Louisiana State product, also spoke highly of Mingo, joking that, “This just shows that I’m getting old, but I’ve been in his ear since he was in high school about being a great edge rusher. I’m happy for him and proud of him, and will be excited when I get to see him.”
Friendship aside, the 6-7, 335-pound Whitworth will have an enormous size advantage as he attempts to stop Mingo from pressuring Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton.
Quickness, though, will be on the side of the lanky 22-year-old, who is just 6½ weeks removed from a hospital stay after spitting up blood against the Lions.
Whitworth knows that he will have his hands and feet full against Mingo, but believes he has an advantage because he predicted this day would come a long time ago.
“From the first day I saw him, I told him he had the explosiveness and all he had to do was keep adding size and learn the game,” Whitworth said. “Every great edge rusher has those first three steps, and he’s already got them.
“He’s going to be a special player down the road. When he adds weight to some of his man strength, it’s going to make him that much scarier of a player.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Cincinnati
WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium
TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM, WNCX 98.5-FM