April 24, 2014

Medina
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Brian Dulik: Browns pick of Barkevious Mingo might seem safe, but that works just fine

New Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo dressed the part Thursday night, arriving at the NFL Draft wearing a brown tie and an orange pocket square.

The Louisiana State product also said the right things, telling Cleveland reporters, “I think I can be as good as I want to be — and I want to be great. I want to get my name in Canton, Ohio.”

But Mingo’s most endearing quality is his position. Or actually, two positions that he doesn’t play.

By not drafting a quarterback or a cornerback with the No. 6 pick in the first round, Browns CEO Joe Banner and coach Rob Chudzinski proved they aren’t conducting business as usual in Berea.

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“KeKe is someone we felt strongly about putting in our locker room and being part of our team,” said Chudzinski, an offensive guru by trade. “He’s an outstanding pass rusher, an outstanding athlete and has great speed off the edge.

“It all starts with pass rush in this league because affecting quarterbacks is a key to winning games. We believe KeKe can and will do that for us.”

Though Mingo was the third pass rusher chosen (behind Oregon’s Dion Jordan and Brigham Young’s Ezekiel Ansah), he was a safer and smarter selection than the best available cornerback (Alabama’s Dee Milliner) or quarterbacks (West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel).

Milliner is an intriguing talent and could wind up being a standout, but his massive injury history made him too much of a risk to take at the sixth spot.

The Browns desperately need a quality corner to play opposite Joe Haden, but this wasn’t the time or place to reach for one.

“We’re not going to fill all the needs on this team this year,” Banner said flatly. “It’s just not going to happen. I’ll tell you that right now.

“We’re really not going to force-fill a need on a short-term basis, as opposed to building a team to get really good and sustain it. At cornerback and other positions, we’ll be looking for a guy to fill the spot for a long while.”

That long-term vision also explains why Cleveland eschewed choosing a quarterback at six, even though Banner and Chudzinski have made it clear they aren’t sold on incumbent Brandon Weeden.

The Browns’ brain trust has already brought in veteran Jason Campbell to challenge 2012 first-round pick Weeden for the job, so adding a marginal rookie to the mix wouldn’t have been prudent.

If Smith or Manuel were blue-chippers, the specter of a three-way quarterback derby still would have cast a dark shadow over the situation.

Since both are far from sure things and not necessarily upgrades over Weeden and Campbell, Cleveland’s new front office again graded out well on its first draft day.

“It’s going to take a strong draft and a year of free agency, and another strong draft and another year of free agency for us to build this football team into a contender,” Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III said.

“And let’s face it, if you can compete in our division, you’ve got a chance to win the Super Bowl.”
Haslam’s remarks were met with applause from a small group of sponsors inside the team’s Berea headquarters. The embattled billionaire did not answer questions from the media, but also proved to be a welcome change from former owner Randy Lerner, whose public appearances were few and far between.

Browns fever also was raging at FirstEnergy Stadium, where 2,007 fans flocked to a public draft party, illustrating why Mingo was impressed by Northeast Ohio during his brief visit working out for Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

And even though the 6-foot-4, 241-pounder made his mark as a right defensive end with the Tigers, he vowed to make his new fans proud while playing his new position.

“I fell in love with the city and now I have a chance to play here, so I’m blessed,” said Mingo, whose high character outweighed his relative lack of experience at linebacker. “I think I’m the best pass rusher in the draft.

“My goal is to be starting Week 1 and help win games right away. They brought me in to put pressure on the quarterback, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.

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