TOM WITHERS,AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — There seemed to be four guys wearing No. 51 for the Browns in their exhibition opener.
Rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo was everywhere.
The first-round draft pick made a huge first impression in his NFL debut, making big plays on defense and special teams in Cleveland’s 27-19 preseason win over the St. Louis Rams. Mingo, taken sixth overall out of LSU in April’s draft, had several pressures on Rams quarterbacks, recorded a sack that was nullified by a penalty, delivered a key block on Travis Benjamin’s 91-yard punt return for a touchdown and made a tackle on a kickoff.
At one point, his brown jersey was even spotted in the Dawg Pound. That was just a fan, but he’ll soon be joined by others.
“It was fun, man,” Mingo said. “It was everything I thought it would be. I enjoyed being out there with my teammates and just really enjoyed getting back to playing football.”
Mingo maximized every second he was on the field. On Cleveland’s first kickoff, he sprinted down and tackled Rams running back Isaiah Pead at the 14-yard line. But it was on defense that the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Mingo — everyone calls him Keke (key-key) — had his finest moments.
Although he’s currently working with the second-team defense, Mingo showcased his exceptional pass-rushing skills and speed off the edge that forced Rams quarterbacks into mistakes.
Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was impressed by Mingo’s performance. The moment didn’t seem too big for him.
“He has a knack for getting after the quarterback,” Jackson said. “He showed a tremendous amount of conditioning. For your first game, it usually jumps up on you. Everyone remembers that first preseason game. You take a couple deep breaths and you’re like, ‘OK, this is the real deal.’ But I watched him every play. He’s got a knack for getting after that quarterback.
“He has a motor, and you can’t teach that.”
Mingo’s motor revs non-stop.
He’s always on the go, and even when he’s not moving there’s a sense he’s about to accelerate.
Mingo wasn’t credited with a tackle, but it seemed every time Rams backup quarterback Austin Davis was back to pass, Mingo was in the neighborhood.
He appeared to record his first sack when he beat Rams backup tackle and former LSU teammate Joe Barksdale on a spin move, reached out and threw down Davis with one hand. However, the sack was wiped out by a tripping penalty. Mingo waved his arms toward Cleveland’s sideline, hoping the penalty would be declined. Still, it was a moment to savor.
“It was kind of flukish,” Mingo said. “I just barely got a hand on him and he fell.”
It hasn’t taken long for Mingo to win over his teammates. He’s still a rookie, and subjected to the same treatment as other first-year players. He got a haircut like all the other “rooks” last week. But Cleveland’s veterans have taken note of Mingo’s humility and work ethic.
“He’s a freak, man,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “He just covers so much ground. And the thing that I like about Mingo, he’s not flashy, he doesn’t talk. He just goes out there, handles his business.”
In practice, Mingo has made some of the Browns offensive lineman look silly with his exceptional speed. During one-on-one drills, he’s often the star, blowing past tackles and guards with a spinning move.
But Mingo also knows he needs to diversify his repertoire to get to the quarterback.
“You can’t go in there with (just a) fastball,” Mingo said. “You’ve kind of got to play off the guy that’s blocking you and use his energy to help make the play.”
On Monday, Mingo spent a few minutes on the side going over some hand-fighting techniques with Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, who was offering a few tips to Cleveland’s young linebacker.
Browns safety T.J. Ward said Mingo stands apart for more than being physically gifted.
“Mingo works hard, that’s the first thing.” Ward said. “He has that desire just to be good, and that’s the first thing I like about him — he’s hard-working and just his natural ability, he’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve come across. He’s going to help this team. “He was a high draft pick, so some of the things that he’s doing are what you would expect from someone taken that high, but it’s his intangibles that make him a little bit different rookie.”
NOTES: RB Trent Richardson wants to play Thursday against the Detroit Lions, but coach Rob Chudzinski said no final decision will be made on the back’s status until Tuesday. Richardson did not play in the preseason opener as the Browns have been cautious with their young star, who was kicked in the shin earlier in camp. Richardson said he expects to play but will “leave it in coach’s hands and do whatever he thinks is best. Coach knows what’s the best decision for me and I’m 100 percent down with coach. I feel ready to go.” … CB Chris Owens (strained foot), WR Jordan Norwood (hamstring) and OL Oniel Cousins (ankle) returned to practice. … Jackson was given the day off, and Chudzinski said the veteran is not injured.
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