As an eight-year veteran who has faced Cleveland twice per season, Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth is familiar with most of the Browns’ personnel.
But it’s one of Cleveland’s newest players that Whitworth has extensive knowledge of.
Browns rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo and Whitworth both attended West Monroe (La.) High School and LSU, and Whitworth, 31, has served as both a mentor and a friend since meeting Mingo, 22, several years ago.
“I’ve been in his ear since he was in high school about being a great edge rusher,” Whitworth said of the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Mingo, drafted sixth overall in April. “I told him he had the explosiveness and all he had to do was keep adding size and learn the game. I told him from the day I saw him in high school, ‘You just have to worry about those first three steps because that’s what every great edge rusher has.’
“He’s got them. He’s going to be a special player down the road.”
Sunday in Cleveland, Whitworth will get his first chance to compete against Mingo when the Bengals face the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“It will be a clash,” said Mingo, who is likely to make his first NFL start with Jabaal Sheard missing practice all week with a knee injury.
“We’re still waiting to see how everything unfolds, but if I’m called upon I’m going to take the opportunity and run with it,” Mingo added. “Me and Whit go back. He’s a great player, and I’m looking forward to going up against him. I feel like I’m progressing down the right path. There’s some stuff that I know I have to get better at, but in time I’ll be there.”
Whitworth and Mingo shared another bond this summer as both battled through injuries. Whitworth missed the preseason with a knee injury, while Mingo suffered a scary bruised lung that could have cost him his life had he taken, or delivered, another hit.
Mingo got hurt Aug. 15 and didn’t return to action until Week 2. But he made an immediate impact, recording his first NFL sack in his first game. And he got another one last week against Minnesota.
“He’s got a lot of reach, he’s really, really fast and he’s kind of one of those guys that as he matures, he’s built to play the position,” Whitworth said. “As he puts on weight and matures and gets older, it is going to make him that much scarier of a player.”
Ironically, it was another injury that first led to Whitworth and Mingo becoming friends. Whitworth was home rehabbing a knee injury that cut short his 2008 season when he went to see Mingo and the West Monroe basketball team play a tournament game.
“I got to take the whole team out after they won,” Whitworth said. “I took them all to dinner, just to give them something to be uplifted about because that’s such a football school. The basketball team kind of gets ignored. So I wanted something for those guys to feel special about.”
As close as the two are, Whitworth’s mission Sunday will be to make sure Mingo is feeling anything but special when the two get together and shake hands after the game.
“During the game, you really don’t think about it, but after the game it will be great to see him,” Whitworth said. “He’s an exceptional guy. He always has a smile and is always willing to take on any task and has that attitude. I was talking to the LSU guys when the draft was rolling around, checking on his situation. Everybody down there says this guy wins every sprint, he wins every conditioning drill. He’s one of those types of guys, kind of in the same mold as I was when I was there.”