BEREA, Ohio -- Barkevious Mingo came on to the NFL scene barking loud.
The rookie outside linebacker from LSU had sacks in his first three NFL games, something that hadn't been done in the NFL since 2004.
What was more impressive was that Mingo missed a good portion of the preseason with a bruised lung suffered Aug. 15 against the Lions. He missed the season opener against the Dolphins but made his NFL debut against the Ravens. On his first NFL play, Mingo zipped around the left end of the Ravens line and sacked Joe Flacco. He followed that with sacks in the next two games against the Vikings and the Bengals. He then went without a sack for three games until sacking Alex Smith of the Chiefs on Oct. 27.
Since three sacks in three games, Mingo has just one sack in his last six games. Mingo still is second in the NFL among rookies with four sacks, behind only to the Patriots' defensive lineman Chris Jones, who has five.
Mingo was asked if he feels he's on pace to accomplish his personal goals.
"Personal goals for me are to win," he said. "That's the only goal I have. Personally, I'm just trying to get better every week."
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said a few weeks ago that he expects Mingo and his defense to be playing some of their best football by Thanksgiving.
"We put a lot on the young man," Horton said. "He’s playing different positions for us. I’m happy with him. I’m throwing a lot more at him this week also, to be accountable. We talk about, in this business after Week 10 or 11, it’s an extended season for rookies because they play, typically 11, 12, maybe 13 now, and we’re at that point with preseason.
"So it’s a big factor for us to gauge him, how he’s doing, the workload, home life, and all that stuff this last push of the season," he said. "He’s doing everything we want. I expect a lot from him and I’m challenging him off the field, meaning extra stuff, the studying and do more for us, but we’re pleased with where he’s at.”
Last week against the Bengals, Mingo was credited with just one assisted tackle from the coaches review. He was beaten by Giovani Bernard on a pass from Mohamed Sanu for 25 yards and he missed a block along with Eric Martin that allowed the Bengals Jayson DiManche to block Spencer Lanning's punt that resulted in a touchdown.
"I didn't do my job on that play," he said.
Mingo was asked if he's hit the 'proverbial' rookie wall.
"I'm still grinding and going and trying to win games."
D'Qwell Jackson said that all rookies go through slumps.
"We've all been through it," Jackson said. "He is a guy that is not fazed by anything and you can win with that. 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."
Mingo said he knew it wasn't going to be as easy as it seemed to be in his first three NFL games.
"This is the NFL and I'm going up against tackles that are at the top of the league," he said. "I'm going up against guys that are as good or close to Joe Thomas. It's not going to be easy, they're not going to make it easy. They're not going to let me hit the quarterback because they don't get paid to let that happen. It's a different challenge every week and I have to be on my 'A' game every week."
Mingo said he's seeing different things every week.
"Different teams have done different things," he said. "Some teams have double-teamed me, others have chip (blocked) me."
Mingo (6-4, 240) has been learning to play against the run and feels he's improving. Earlier in the season, he lost contain and C.J. Spiller broke a 54-yard touchdown run.
"It's going good," he said. "My job is to keep contain and not let guys get edges and no outside runs."
In addition to the four sacks, Mingo has 25 tackles and four passes broken up.
MIngo has been able to rely on his blazing speed and quickness in the early going, but he knows he will need more moves as times goes on.
"You go with your fastball," he said. "You might want to work on something else but at the end of the day, you go with what you know."
Thomas goes up against Mingo in practice and sees his development.
"I'm not worried about that at all," Thomas said. "If you want to survive in this league as a pass rusher, you've got to have at least two or three moves because just about every offensive tackle in the league can block one or two. The guys that survive in this league for a long time, they've got more than one move and it's unpredictable."
Mingo said he is watching Paul Kruger and picking up tips on moves.
"I don't know what you call it but it's the coolest thing I've ever seen and it works," Mingo said. "It works for him, so I try my best to see if I can do it sometimes in practice against the offense. I don't really know how you say what it is. It's just a natural movement and it works."
Mingo was asked if he's happy with his rookie season.
"We'll find out at the end of the season when we look back on it," he said. "Personally, I'm trying to get better every week. What happens, happens."
Getting After Big Ben: The Browns know that in order to shut down the Steelers, the defense will have to slow down QB Ben Roethlisberger. Horton was asked about the challenge of not only getting to Roethlisberger, but getting him to the ground.
“Getting to him? I would say getting to him is probably the first step," Horton said. "Getting him down is something totally different. I think I saw a quote somewhere about Fran Tarkenton, saying that Fran Tarkenton was the best (most elusive) quarterback or something like that recently. It was odd, because I was just thinking about Ben, watching tape. There’s different style of quarterbacks. I can’t go back to Y.A. Tittle and some of those other quarterbacks, but as far as the most elusive quarterback, I don’t know if there’s a better one.
"Fran was different because he could scramble and run around, but Fran didn’t take a hit and shake hits like Ben does," he said. "I don’t think there’s been a quarterback in the league that has taken unabated shots and shrugged guys off, more big plays, than Ben in the history of the league. Now, Fran would run, Roger Staubach would run, but they were different types of quarterbacks. Ben’s probably the biggest, strongest, most mobile quarterback. I tell people, I told our players, he was a shortstop in baseball; you’d think he would be a pitcher. He was a point guard in basketball; you’d think he would be the center. And he punts left-footed. So this guy is the most athletic guy that we’ll face, meaning total package of completeness.”
Horton said his plan of attack will be the same.
“That’s what we do," he said. "We mix things up. We rush four, we rush three sometimes, we rush two sometimes and we rush the whole house. So, we won’t change anything. We just have to understand it’s just not the Cleveland Browns, it’s every single team in this league has a problem getting this guy on the ground because he’s so big, so strong, so athletic, and most of his big plays come after contact on him. It’s just something you’re conscious of, and aware of, but most guys are I think shocked by this guy’s strength and athletic ability.”
Roethlisberger has been most effective when running the 'no huddle' offense and Chudzinski expects to see that Sunday.
"Ben has done that a lot and we've prepared for it and expect to see it Sunday."
Special LaBeau: Ray Horton spoke about the relationship he's had with Steeler's defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau going back to when he entered the NFL as a player.
“I was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals and he was my defensive backfield coach, developed into my defensive coordinator, and then I’ve coached with him, or under him, for quite a while," Horton said. "For me, I would say it’s more of a personal than a professional relationship. I think when you have a mentor like that, it is that way, it goes beyond football. I carry some of the life lessons I’ve learned from him into my life and instilled into my children and my coaching career. Probably everything that I am, he’s a big reason why.”
Horton admitted that LaBeau influenced his coaching style.
“Personally, I thought I would be a coach in college (as a college player), but upon meeting Coach LeBeau, I knew how I wanted to be a coach, and what style of coaching, how I wanted to treat players," he said. "I always wanted to be a coach, but he was a role model for me of how to coach.”
Dealing with No Running Game: Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has a history of great running backs. He coached Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams and LaDainian Tomlinson when they won the NFL rushing titles. It was thought that former Browns RB Trent Richardson might find that elite status when Turner arrived this year, but Richardson was quickly traded to the Colts after just two games and he has floundered in Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, the Browns have used a committee of running backs with RB Willis McGahee, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, RB Fozzy Whittaker among others. McGahee is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry and the offense is at 3.8. Runs by WR Travis Benjamin (45), DB Josh Aubrey (34) and WR Josh Gordon (22) have helped the average.
“I’ve not been in this situation a lot," Turner said. I think our guys, I think our coaches, our offensive players, I think they’re all managing the situation the best we can. Like I say, we have been effective in the run game in spots. We’ve been effective in the run game and our best games, obviously late in the game. I think we’re trying to use it to keep as much balance as we can.”
Besides trading away Richardson, the Browns waived RB Bobby Rainey, who is now the feature back with Tampa Bay. He rushed for 163 yards last week with three touchdowns.
Tank's Up: If LB Craig Robertson might miss Sunday's game with a knee sprain. He didn't participate in practice for most of the week. If he can't play, LB Tank Carder will replace him. Carder said he's anxious for the opportunity.
"Hat's off to Craig," Carder said. "He's a (heckuva) football player, but I think I can play. I think I'm a decent player. Hopefully, there'll be no drop off at all and I can cover those guys on the Steeleers."
Carder (6-2, 235) has primarily been a special team player, but had seven tackles last week when Robertson was injured. Carder backs up both Robertson and D'Qwell Jackson at inside linebacker.
"That's my role," Carder said. "I'm a full-phase special teams guy."But if I do get in defensively, I feel comfortable with what the coaches are asking me to do. I'll just go out there and do my job."
Horton is confident in Carder.
“I go back to my first interview with you guys, talking about depth," Horton said. "I do not care who’s in the game. They’re all accountable. I am as comfortable with Tank as I was Craig, Mingo, whether it’s (Ahtyba) Rubin in the game, whether it’s Billy Winn, I believe in our players that they will be accountable and do the job to the best of their ability.”
Carder was Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year twice in college and was the Rose Bowl MVP in 2011 while playing for Texas Christian.
"We expect him to do well," Chudzinski said. "A couple of those guys have gotten a lot of reps this week."
Robertson Doubtful, Gray Out: TE MarQueis Gray (hamstring) was ruled out and LB Craig Robertson (knee) was listed as doubtful. Neither practiced this week,although Chudzinski said that Robertson is "improving" DL Armonty Bryant (back) is questionable. OL Mitchell Schwartz (toe), RB Willis McGahee (knee), P Spenner Lanning (left knee), RB Fozzy Whittaker (ankle), OL Jason Pinkston (ankle) and LB Paul Kruger (finger) are all probable. For the Steelers: DE Brett Keisel (foot), S Shamarko Thomas (ankle) and LB LaMarr Woodley (calf) did not practice Thursday and their status for Friday wasn't available as of yet.
Looking for Three: The Browns have not defeated all three AFC North division rivals in one season since 1999. They have a chance Sunday as they've already beaten the Bengals (Sept. 29, 17-6) and Ravens (Nov.3, 24-18) at home this season. Currently, the Browns are 2-2 in the AFC North this season.
No Modell: Former Browns owner Art Modell was not among the top 25 finalists for the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame. Modell had been in the top 25 on several occasions, including last season.