BEREA — Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo said he hasn’t hit the rookie wall.
Something’s stopping him from getting to the quarterback.
Mingo has gone two straight games without a sack and has only one in the last six games. That’s not the impact the Browns were hoping for when they drafted him with the sixth pick.
“It’s not going to be easy. This is the NFL,” Mingo said Thursday. “We’re going against tackles that are top of the league. I’m going against guys that are as good or close to Joe Thomas. They’re not going to let me hit the quarterback, because they don’t get paid to let that happen.
“Every week’s a different challenge and every week I have to be on my A-game to get those sacks.”
Have Browns fans seen his A-game?
“We’ll find out at the end of the year as we’re looking back on it,” he said. “I don’t know.”
He certainly didn’t have it Sunday in a 41-20 loss to the Bengals. He was beat by running back Giovani Bernard for a 25-yard reception, as Mingo got sucked in on a backward pass to receiver Mohamed Sanu, who threw across the field to Bernard to set up a touchdown. Mingo later teamed with Eric Martin to allow Jayson DiManche to block a Spencer Lanning punt that was returned for a touchdown.
“I didn’t do my job on that play,” Mingo said.
The good plays were harder to spot. After the coaches reviewed the film, he was credited with a single tackle assist in 38 snaps from his outside linebacker spot.
“We have all been through it. He is a guy that is not fazed by anything and you can win with that,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “You have to have a short memory, and he did.
He finished the game off and he played well. Just some things are going to happen, but he has been awesome for us.”
The spotlight won’t ever leave Mingo because he was the first selection in Cleveland by CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi. The focus can be harsh at times.
“Personally, my goal is to win. That’s the only goal I have,” Mingo said. “If I can go sackless and win, I’d still be happy. Personally I’m trying to get better every week and what happens, happens.”
Mingo’s freakish athleticism is undeniable and he’s already had a series of plays where it showed. He leads the team with four sacks, which trails only New England tackle Chris Jones’ five among rookies. Mingo needs 1.5 sacks to tie Chip Banks (1982) for fourth on Cleveland’s rookie sack list and two to tie Michael Dean Perry (6) for third.
In nine games, including three starts while Jabaal Sheard was injured, Mingo has 17 solo tackles, eight assists and four passes defensed. He’s part of a three-man rotation with Paul Kruger and Sheard and occasionally all three line up together.
Last month coordinator Ray Horton said Mingo would be hitting his stride by Thanksgiving. That’s suddenly a week away.
“We put a lot on the young man. He’s playing different positions for us,” Horton said. “I’m happy with him. He’s doing everything we want. I expect a lot from him and I’m challenging him off the field.”
Mingo played in 13 games as a junior at LSU last year. Including the preseason he’s almost there, and the Browns have six games left as they try to stay in the playoff hunt. But he said he hasn’t slammed headfirst into the rookie wall.
“We’re just still grinding and going and trying to win games,” he said.
After missing the season opener as he recovered from a bruised lung, Mingo announced his presence with authority. He sacked Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco on his first NFL snap, knocked down a pass in the backfield and drew two holding penalties.
He followed with sacks of Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton in Weeks 3 and 4, becoming the first rookie with a sack in each of his first three games since Oakland’s Tommy Kelly in 2004. The well has run dry.
Mingo has still been effective chasing down the ball, but has struggled containing some outside runs and too often been stoned at the line in one-on-one pass-rush matchups. His speed can be neutralized when the bigger, stronger offensive linemen get their hands on his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame.
San Francisco’s Aldon Smith set unrealistic expectations when he had 14 sacks as a rookie playing a similar role as Mingo. More common is for young pass rushers to go through hot and cold spells.
“In this league you have to have a trial-and-error period,” defensive end Desmond Bryant said. “He’s got to learn how they’re going to try to attack him and learn new ways to beat what they’re going to do.”
Bryant is confident Mingo will add the third and fourth pass-rush moves necessary to complement his speed rush around the edge and spin move into the middle.
“He’s one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen, so absolutely, if he really works hard,” Bryant said.
For now, Mingo is relying on what got him to this level.
“You just go with your fastball,” he said. “You might try to work on something else later, but at the end of the day you’ve got to go with what you know.”
Mingo will play the Steelers for the first time Sunday. Even if he gets past the tackle, he’ll have to use all his leverage to drag down quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s listed at 6-5, 241 pounds.
“When you watch the film you can tell that he is big, strong and athletic,” Mingo said. “It’s going to be a good challenge for our defense.”
A sack of Roethlisberger would be the perfect slump-buster.
Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.