Tucked on the far sideline of the fieldhouse on a dreary Saturday, Barkevious Mingo was put through outside linebacker drills by assistant coach Brian Baker. Mingo flew through the cones set up in a zigzag pattern. He was quick dropping in coverage and snatched — that’s the only appropriate word — the ball thrown in his direction.
Then he moved to a course designed to help the pass rush. He aced it.
Mingo exploded through the bags and showed rare athleticism as he pivoted around the final bag and made his way back to the starting line. He barely slowed down as he rotated around the last bag, which should translate to him coming off the edge, bursting past a tackle and locking in on the quarterback.
He looks like he was born to rush the quarterback.
“That’s absolutely true,” said offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey, a seventh-round pick. “He’s very gifted. He’s got the tangibles.”
“It jumps off the film on you in a hurry, how quick, how fast he is,” LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley told The Chronicle-Telegram in a phone interview. “You get to see his effort and he practices harder than anybody on the field. Every snap, that’s who he is.”
Mingo (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) is supposed to be the best player on the field at rookie minicamp. He’s the No. 6 pick and was surrounded by undrafted signees or guys on a weekend tryout. From stretching — he’s so conscientious he was the final one to finish each trip across the field — to every drill open to the media, Mingo stood out.
He looks like he’s been doing this his whole life.
Mingo’s mom didn’t want him to get hurt, so she didn’t allow him to play football as a kid. The forces at West Monroe High School in Louisiana were pulling against her. The students and coaches had seen him run track and play basketball and kept encouraging him to try the No. 1 sport of Louisiana.
“He didn’t shoot very well,” said Jerry Arledge, West Monroe’s defensive coordinator who’s taken over as head coach. “But he was a heckuva defender and ran like a deer up and down the court.”
After the state track meet — he excelled in the 200 and 400 meters — at the end of his sophomore year, Mingo attended his first football practice. He was quickly forced into action during the spring scrimmage when the starter was injured.
“We had no idea what he could be on the football field,” Arledge said. “I stood behind him so I could tell him what I wanted him to do on every play.
“He wasn’t afraid. He made a lot of tackles that day, just with effort. So much of defensive football is that.”
Arledge made sure to mention the tight end trying to block Mingo wound up at LSU on a scholarship.
“He just had raw ability,” Arledge said of Mingo. “And he had that desire to run to the football. I’ve never seen anyone develop that quick, or have that success. I coached 20 years in college and about 25-30 years in high school.”
Mingo’s been on the rise ever since.
He lacked the fundamentals to take on blocks as a junior, so Arledge abandoned his 4-3 scheme and switched to a 3-4 to get Mingo in space and take advantage of his skill set.
“He was just a wild man,” Arledge said. “He was a tremendous athlete. His first year was just a great success.”
Mingo was named first-team all-state and became a blue-chip prospect. Arledge had a favorite play he put on the highlight reel for college coaches.
“He came off the edge rushing the quarterback and came by him so fast the quarterback steps up and comes up to the side where Mingo had been,” he said. “Mingo just makes a 180, comes all the way around the other end of the line and chases the quarterback down on the far sideline where he came from.
“The college coaches would say, ‘Yeah, we want him. He looks like a blur.’ When you’re the fastest guy on the field, you’re the king.”
Elyria native Les Miles won the recruiting battle for LSU. Mingo redshirted in 2009, then played for three years. He amassed 23½ tackles for loss and 12½ sacks in his sophomore and junior seasons before declaring for the draft.
“He’s tough to block, tough to touch at times,” Miles said.
Haley loves Mingo’s athleticism, but pointed to a different reason for his success.
“His attitude. He has an attitude that there’s nothing he can’t do,” Haley said. “He just feels like anything you ask him to do, he’s going to get it done, period.
“He can be a game-changer.”
The Browns obviously agree. They had Mingo’s name written on the whiteboard hours before the draft as the guy they wanted, according to a story on grantland.com, and passed up a trade-down with St. Louis that would’ve netted a second-round pick.
Mingo fit their offseason plan to transform the pass rush.
“I think Mingo is a defining kind of player you want to bring into an organization,” general manager Michael Lombardi said during the draft. “He’s competitive, he’s extremely tough, he loves football, he’s passionate, he’s fast, he’s athletic and he’s long.”
Although owner Jimmy Haslam spent part of practice Saturday watching the special teams in the drizzle, most eyes were focused on Mingo. After all, he’ll sign the biggest contract and hopefully have the greatest impact.
“I just want to show the coaches that their picking me was a good choice,” he said.
He said he prefers to “blend into the crowd,” but understands that may not be possible as the team’s top pick.
“You realize that, but it really doesn’t matter when you get here,” he said. “You’re just another football player and you have to prove yourself to these coaches and compete for a job.”
Mingo the man
The Browns’ glowing description of Mingo’s character may ring hollow after the recent arrests of teammates Quentin Groves and Armonty Bryant, but Mingo brings a long list of references.
None of his former coaches makes it through a quote without raving about him as a person.
“He’s a very unusual young man,” Arledge said. “He’s a great football player and he’s probably a better kid than a football player. He’s extremely, extremely well thought of in our school and community. He’s got a great personality, just full of life, and is such a joy to be around.”
Mingo didn’t let the draft-day experience go to his head. He spent much of the two weeks between the draft and minicamp in West Monroe hanging out at the high school.
“He just loves being around the kids, coming back home,” said Arledge, who added Mingo has never been in trouble. “All the attention he’s gotten has not changed the kid one bit. When you see him, he makes you think he’s your very best friend.”
Haley described Mingo as a funny prankster — after he gets to know you. But he has enough depth of character to influence the masses.
Arledge said Mingo’s family was poor and he had a single pair of shower shoes that he wore to school every day. In a school of more than 2,000 kids, half the boys wore that type of shoe his senior year.
“They called ’em Mingo shoes,” Arledge said. “It was pretty neat. They were copying him.
“He has that charisma about him. Our kids love him.”
The next step
Despite the hype, Mingo has a few questions to answer as he jumps to the NFL. He hasn’t dropped in coverage much and could be considered undersized at 237 pounds.
He dismissed the notion that either would be an issue, as did those who know his skills best.
“He’s so athletic, it’ll be second nature to him,” Haley said of pass coverage. “It’ll be a very small learning curve there.
“He adapts to things so well. He’ll be great in the NFL. You’ll get dedication to be good at what you ask him to do.”
What about the idea he’s too thin?
“Don’t let the skinny frame fool you,” Haley said. “It’s like the old Colt 45 commercials, ‘Don’t let the smooth taste fool you.’
“He’s very physical, very strong. Against the toughest competition, he held his own.”
Haley said he talked to Mingo several times between the draft and minicamp, and he’s a fan of Cleveland.
“He loves it,” Haley said. “He’s excited about the opportunity to go to Cleveland and give everything he’s got. He’s a special person. Not just a special football player.”