RENTON — The way Barkevious Mingo sees it, the big question about his career is only now about to be answered — can he really be an effective pass rusher off the edge?
In what is his second season with the Seahawks and seventh in the NFL, Mingo is being used solely as a defensive end, and specifically in pass-rush situations, often playing the LEO, or rush end, spot.
Every other year in his career, including last season with the Seahawks, he played linebacker, which called for him to rush the passer often but also required other responsibilities, such as dropping into pass coverage.
Now, at age 28 — and having already been labeled by many as a bust after he was taken with the sixth overall choice of the 2013 draft by Cleveland and then unceremoniously traded three years later — he says he’s finally in a position to make the best use of his skills.
“That’s what I came into this league to do,’’ Mingo said last week. “I came into this league to rush the passer. And teams I’ve been on before, they’ve had a different idea of what they wanted me to do. And that’s OK. It’s their team. They can play their players how they want to play them. But looking back at it, I’m happy I get to go back and do it (rush the passer now). I wish it would have been a little earlier in my career. But still, I’m just excited for the opportunity to go out there and just help the team.’’
As Mingo referenced, it was his pass-rush ability that had everyone excited during his career at Louisiana State.
“Tall, long and explosive pass rusher who projects best as a stand-up, weakside edge rusher in the NFL,’’ read a scouting report on Mingo in 2013 from NFL.com.
That’s what NFL teams largely thought, too, and he was used as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense by Cleveland from 2013 to 2015 as well as by the Colts, for whom he played in 2017 (he was primarily a special-teamer with the Patriots in 2016 and last year was Seattle’s primary starting strongside linebacker in a 4-3 defense). But Mingo had just seven sacks in three years with Cleveland before being traded to New England and has dealt ever since with the stigma of being regarded as a failed pick by the Browns in a 2013 draft called by some as among the worst in NFL history.
Mingo, though, said he thinks his best attribute is playing with his hand on the ground as he did at LSU, where he played left defensive end in a 4-3 defense. Now he is doing the same with the Seahawks, and the switch might allow him to finally be as productive rushing the passer as he was in college.
“I don’t have to worry about dropping (into coverage) as a SAM linebacker (has to),’’ he said. “I don’t have to worry about the stuff that the SAM has to worry about it. It kind of frees you up in a sense.”
Needing as much pass rush as possible after the trade of Frank Clark, Seattle made that move in the spring after re-signing linebackers K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks, which allowed Kendricks to move to the strongside spot. The team also drafted two other linebackers and moved Shaquem Griffin to SLB.
Mingo was credited with a sack in the mock game Saturday, in which he was often on the field at end with the starting defense on pass downs, with coach Pete Carroll saying afterward it was the continuation of what has so far been a promising camp.
“We’ve really centered his focus on rushing the passer and taking it away from the linebacker spots knowing that he can go back there and help us,’’ Carroll said. “The dedicated work and the focus, the drilling, just his mentality on totally rushing the passer has already shown up. He’s got fantastic speed, he’s got great length, he has an incredible motor. He works so hard, so we are just working at his game and hoping he can be a factor. We know he can rush. We want to see if we can make him a really good rusher that can be a factor. He’s getting a great shot at it.”
Remaining a Seahawk into September might require showing he can actually do it.
Mingo is entering the final season of his two-year deal with Seattle and the team could save $4.1 million in cap space by releasing him, which has led to much speculation that Mingo could be in danger of being a cap casualty when the team has to cut its roster to 53 on Aug. 31.
Mingo, though, says worrying about that possibility “is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to come in and control what you can control and put whatever you can on film in a good way and just play football and just let the rest sort itself out.’’
That Mingo is one of Seattle’s most valued special-teamers also helps — he played 373 special-teams snaps last season, 94 more than any other Seahawk and sixth-most in the NFL, and was on every special team other than field goal/PAT. He’s also been durable, never having been on an injured list in six years and playing in all but two games in his career.
The bigger question might be if he’s, well, big enough to hold up at defensive end — he’s listed by the Seahawks at 235 pounds.
“I actually mentioned (to coaches) that I probably should have put on a little bit more weight,’’ he said with a smile. “They said ‘No, don’t do that. You’ll be fine.’’
Indeed, it’s his speed that is Mingo’s calling card — his 4.58 40 at the NFL combine in 2013 was the second best for any defensive lineman.
Asked what he weighs, Mingo smiles and shakes his head.
“I weigh enough,’’ he said, recalling he was just 205 pounds when he entered LSU in 2009. “It’s not an issue, I don’t think.’’
And thinking of his LSU days reminds him of the story of how he got switched from linebacker to defensive end early in his career there.
“I’m 6-5, 205 pounds when I get there and someone told me, ‘They are going to switch you to defensive end,’ ’’ he said. “I said ‘No, they are not. If they do, I’m going to transfer.’ They switched me to defensive end and I’m like ‘What am I going to do?’ I was undersized as a linebacker (at 205 pounds) and I’m definitely undersized as a defensive end. But I had a great coach there in Brick Haley (now at Missouri) and he taught me the position and I fell in love with it and it got me drafted. So it’s good to get back to that. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say — it’s good to get back to that.’’