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How Light Is Too Light When It Comes To Mingo?

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Can Barkevious Mingo hold up at 237 pounds or is Cleveland doing him a disservice by allowing him to stay at that weight? Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images
Can Barkevious Mingo hold up at 237 pounds or is Cleveland doing him a disservice by allowing him to stay at that weight? Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns are focused on speed, especially on defense. They think that speed, and getting to the quarterback before he gets to them, is the fastest way – no pun intended – to get the franchise headed in the right direction.

And they’re probably correct.

Whatever the case, however, the addition of speed was apparent last weekend during the team’s three-day rookie minicamp. Players were flying around like they haven’t done at a Browns’ rookie minicamp in the expansion era – it was impressive to watch. The only thing that comes close is when Butch Davis arrived as the coach in 2001 and brought in a bunch of sprinters with connections to the state of Florida. But what was going on Friday-Sunday was way beyond that.

Maybe the most prominent in this show of speed was OLB Barkevious Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL Draft. His lightning-quick first step off the line of scrimmage created a “wow” factor among the media members in attendance. It also may have swayed the opinions of some of those who think the Browns erred when they stood firm and took Mingo instead of trading down and picking up the second-round pick they lacked.

It will be interesting to see Mingo work against the veterans in the OTAs and then the full-squad minicamp over the next three weeks before the Browns take some time off to get ready for the start of training camp in late July.

As part of that, what will be particularly interesting to watch will be if Mingo is big enough – that is, heavy enough – to be effective against those vets. He is just 237 pounds, which means he could be working against offensive tackles weighing nearly 100 pounds more. That’s a lot of size to give away. It is said that speed kills, but can it survive against players that much bigger?

Mingo maintains – and the Browns have seemed to agree thus far – that he is big enough at that weight to do the job. They’re banking that, with that speed and especially that first step, he can get by those tackles before they can firmly get their hands on him. But if they do get their hands on him, he’s going to lose in straight brute force-type blocking. He’s simply not big enough.

The Browns have an important decision to make in this regard. They didn’t have a second-round choice and traded away their fourth- and fifth-round selections, so the Browns didn’t exactly get an overabundance of players in the draft. Because of that, much of the overall success of their draft will be dependent almost solely on what Mingo does and what he can do as a pass rusher. If they decide to keep him at 237 pounds – which appears to be the direction they will go – then they don’t have to do anything other than make him a little stronger.

But if they eventually change their minds and decide to put weight on Mingo, they have to be careful not to add too much so as to slow him down. That speed is who – and what – Mingo is, and has been at every step of the way of the way in his career. It is why the Browns drafted him. Whatever the Browns choose, they have to be right.

Regardless of what happens, though, this is an interesting dilemma for the Browns. After all, when’s the last time they – or any other NFL team for that matter – have considered adding weight to a player as the game continually gets faster?

Maybe not since 2009, when Eric Mangini arrived as the coach and determined -- wrongly so – that 295-pound LG Eric Steinbach needed to add about 20 pounds. When he did so, it caused him to lose the quickness that had made him so effective throughout his career, especially in 2007 when many people thought he should have made it to the Pro Bowl.

Usually, it’s been the other way around, with the Browns trying to shed weight from players.

Way back in the day, legendary coach Paul Brown – who liked his players lean and fast – fought all the time with Forrest “Chubby” Grigg, an aptly-nicknamed starting defensive tackle for four seasons (1948-51). At 294 pounds, Grigg was gargantuan at that point of football history. Brown would offer him financial incentive to lose weight; sometimes Gregg made some extra money and sometimes he didn’t.

When the Browns signed RT Orlando Brown 20 years ago in 1993, they immediately set about trying to shave about 35 pounds off his 385-pound frame. Then-coach Bill Belichick even came up with a fictitious injury for Brown so they could put him onto injured reserve, shelving him for the season and thus giving them plenty of time to make Brown more with less. They were successful, getting him down to the prescribed 350 pounds as he moved into a starting role for the final two seasons of the original Browns’ franchise.

In 2004, the Browns signed Kelvin Garmon – a right guard who was listed at 330 pounds but was way beyond that. He was so massively obese, in fact, that it was difficult to see him in the locker room without a shirt on. He eventually went into Cleveland Clinic for professional weight-loss help and never played for the Browns again.

More recently, from 2007-09, there was DL Shaun Rogers. He was a great player when he put his mind to it, which he did the majority of the time. But at a listed 350 pounds – the key word is listed – it was apparent to everyone that he was too big. Nonetheless, coach Romeo Crennel, who didn’t want to create waves with anyone, never pushed the subject with him.

In fact, if Crennel were still on the job, Mingo probably would be fine at whatever weight he wanted to play at.