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Cleveland Browns Pass Rush Faces Tough Test on Sunday Without Jabaal Sheard
It’s funny how quickly things can change. Just six months ago, analysts were running rampant with speculation of Jabaal Sheard being traded during the 2013 NFL Draft. Many said that he was merely a 4-3 defensive end, while others said he wasn’t fast enough to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. Sheard was effectively dead in the water in the eyes of fans in regards to being able to fit in Ray Horton’s 3-4 defensive scheme.
Now, three weeks into the NFL season, Sheard has not only held down the position, he has excelled in it. In his two-plus games, he has notched 13 tackles, a fumble recovery and 1.5 sacks. As a matter of fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Sheard is Cleveland’s highest rated defender so far this year. Unfortunately, he will not get to add to those stat lines this weekend, as there is only a very slim chance he will see the field this weekend.
During the Cleveland Browns 31-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, Sheard came up lame while recovering a fumble off the hands of Adrian Peterson. He left the Metrodome on crutches and missed Wednesday’s team practice, he is not expected to be in uniform on Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals roll into FirstEnergy Stadium.
The injury opened the door wide open for first-round draft pick, Barkevious Mingo, who finished out the game in Sheard’s place. So far, in limited play, Mingo has made six tackles and racked up a pair of sacks. The numbers really do not do his production justice, however, as he was constantly around the ball-carrier and pressuring the passer.
“He’s a guy that plays with really good leverage, and he plays stronger than what you would expect or think because he plays with such good leverage,” said head coach Rob Chudzinski. Obviously, his athleticism allows him to do some things and create some problems with guys that are trying to block him.”
With his speed and athleticism, Mingo presents an immediate mismatch against heavier-set offensive linemen, and will be in for a battle with Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Mingo is quite familiar with Whitworth, who both attended the same high school and collegiate university. “It will be a clash — me and Whit go back,” Mingo said. “He’s a great player and I’m looking forward to going up against him. He’s a guy that does everything the right way, plays hard. Those kind of guys you want to look up to.”
Despite being a rookie in his third NFL game, Mingo will be asked to do it all on Sunday. From dropping into coverage, something that could arguably be said to be a weakness of his, to relentlessly rushing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. For Cincinnati to have time to work their offense, they will need to chip Mingo on virtually every play.
While Whitworth is one of the best in the game, there are very few pass rushers he has gone up against with the game-changing athleticism that Mingo possesses, and the Bengals know it. “He’s really what we expected to see,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in a conference call. “He’s got great athleticism, he’s long, he’s got the ability to chase the football down and he’s going to have a fine career.”
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