CLEVELAND -- Playing through shoulder pain that requires a harness on gamedays, outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, fair or not, hasn’t yet fulfilled the enormous expectations set on a No. 6 overall pick.
But his value to the Browns down the stretch can’t be overstated now that Jabaal Sheard is out indefinitely with a foot injury.
It sounds like Mingo is having offseason shoulder surgery. Coach Mike Pettine, unprompted, said when talking about Mingo dealing with pain: “I don’t know if this is something that requires surgery at the end of the year,” while also saying it’s tough for Mingo to make plays when his shoulder is “strapped down.”
He’s basically tackling without full range of motion on one side. Mingo recently said about the injury, “You play with it and see where I’m at at the end of the year.” Translation: Yeah, I probably need surgery.
Though the numbers aren’t there for Mingo this season -- one sack in nine games -- his credibility in the locker room seems to be. He’s managing the pain and had an athletic tackle for a loss Sunday against the Texans.
A few aggressive backfield plays in the next six weeks can go a long way for Mingo’s momentum with the franchise.
“The kid’s been tough enough to push through it,” Pettine said. “There are some guys who potentially would have shut it down, but he’s pushed through it. Given our circumstances now with Jabaal, he will have to step up and take a bigger role.”
The Browns often drop Mingo into coverage, which is in part because of his athleticism, but could also be perceived as an indictment on his pass-rushing skills. A first-round outside linebacker in a 3-4 system is supposed to rush the passer. Mingo is versatile but hasn’t proven he can consistently apply pressure on the edge with his 240-ish-pound frame.
Maybe the shoulder contributes to this, but Mingo often makes a nice burst toward a play, then hesitates. He’s good chasing down defenders in the open field -- really good at that, actually; His speed is pretty remarkable -- but he doesn’t look so convincing shaking off a blocker or turning into a quarterback.
If Mingo doesn’t play well, he’s got the shoulder as a backdrop. But if he does enough to keep offensive tackles honest while inserting himself into toughness plays against the run, he can assure coaches he’s a viable option as the starter alongside Paul Kruger.
After all, if the Browns want to keep Sheard, a free agent, they’ll have to pay up. Sheard came in as a 4-3 end and might want to return to that setup. Mingo’s 2015 salary is a paltry $585,000.
It makes financial sense for him to start. Will he reassure that with his play?