Cleveland Browns: With Barkevious Mingo Out it is Armonty Bryant’s Time to Shine

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On Wednesday, rumors began to swirl regarding 2013 Top 10 pick, Barkevious Mingo, and a potential knee injury. Those rumors came to light on Thursday morning, as reports revealed Mingo has a torn meniscus which he will have surgery on to repair.

The timetable for his return, as reported by Ian Rapoport, is a month (though Mary Kay Cabot reported it could be two to four weeks)—which would put him in line to return for the regular season. However, other NFL players have been out four to six weeks with this injury, which would take him into the first few games of the 2015 season. And in some extreme cases, players ended up needing an additional surgery (obviously worst case scenario) like Jadeveon Clowney last season when it was discovered he had a microfracture as well—costing him the entire season.

Currently there are no reports that this is going to be anything more than just a torn meniscus, so that is a good thing for Mingo, the Browns and their fans. However, this will be the third consecutive season Mingo has experienced an injury, so the team is going to have to make sure to have a solid insurance policy just in case his return is delayed at all.

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General manager Ray Farmer began investing in this policy when he drafted Nate Orchard in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Orchard proved to be able to pile up sacks at a high rate last season (18.5) and has a high motor which has been on display during camp, but he will likely be worked into the defensive rotation slowly in order to maximize his effectiveness in year one.

This means that someone out of Scott Solomon and Armonty Bryant will have to step up in a big way for the Browns this season. And while everyone wants to lean toward Solomon because of his work ethic and production in limited action last season, it is actually Bryant who has an opportunity to shine with Mingo out.

A former seventh-round draft pick the Browns took a flier on due to his off-the-field problems in the 2013 NFL Draft, Bryant has been used in a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end role during his time in Cleveland. Known for attempting to sell marijuana twice to an undercover police officer in a parking lot at his college (rumored to have happened during practice), Bryant has actually shown flashes of his pass rushing potential during his first two seasons in Cleveland.

In 2013 he played in 12 games, recording 12 tackles and two sacks. He played just 16.4 percent of the defensive snaps (all snap counts are from Football Outsiders) during the 2013 season (188 total), but also registered another 27.6 percent of the special teams snaps (133). In line for an expanded role in 2014, Bryant played 11.4 percent of the defensive snaps (133) and 13.1 percent of the special teams snaps (61) on the season prior to suffering a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. He suffered this injury the second weekend of October in Cleveland’s dominating win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-10.

Going down with a knee injury that would cost him the rest of the season was a major blow to Bryant, as he had already registered 133 defensive snaps in 5 games. With an average of 26.6 snaps per game, he was on pace to see the field (obviously subject to change based on performance) for 425 snaps—which would have been 237 more snaps than he saw during his rookie year.

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To quantify just how much more playing time Bryant was seeing in year two, let’s take a look at both the defensive line and linebacker positions for the Browns last year. The Top 3 snap counts on the defensive line (the position Football Outsiders has Bryant coded as) belonged to Desmond Bryant (733 for 63 percent), Billy Winn (501 for 43 percent) and Ahtyba Rubin (450 for 38.7 percent). At linebacker, Paul Kruger (899 snaps for 77.2 percent), Karlos Dansby (814 for 69.9 percent) and Chris Kirksey (684 for 58.8 percent) led the way.

When you look at the projected 425 snaps for Bryant last year, he would have seen the fourth most snaps among defensive linemen. Another important thing to note is that Mingo played 667 snaps (57.3 percent) at linebacker last season and Jabaal Sheard (now with the Patriots) played 676 (58.1 percent). This means that there are a lot of snaps available for the taking for Bryant, Solomon and Orchard early on in 2015.

Bryant finished his shortened 2014 season with 11 total tackles and one sack, but was showing the ability to put constant pressure on offensive linemen and the quarterback as he came off the edge. As long as his explosiveness is back and he is 100 percent healthy, there is no reason to think he cannot continue to progress in his third year in the league at just 25-years old.

The growth and development of Bryant was temporarily stumped last season due to a knee injury, but as Kevin Jones from ClevelandBrowns.com notes, it hasn’t derailed him this offseason. “And then there’s Bryant, who still meets in the defensive line classroom but has seen an increased number of reps as a stand-up pass rusher. Remember before his knee injury against the Steelers, the 25-year-old Bryant was really coming into his own.”

Jones isn’t the only one inside the Browns organization who had positive things to say about Bryant, though. After losing Bryant last year, head coach Mike Pettine said, “It’ll be difficult to replace Bryant. He was one of our most productive pass rushers, and in the short amount of time he was in there yesterday (against the Steelers), he was playing well.” Then, prior to the beginning of training camp this year, Pettine again discussed Bryant. “…Armonty Bryant is going to get some work, we’re going to cross train him between defensive line and outside backer.”

If you are good at reading between the lines it is pretty clear to see, Bryant was already in line for more snaps and plenty of opportunities on the Browns defense this season based on what Pettine saw last year. Add in the departure of Sheard and the unfortunate injury to Mingo, and the next month could be huge for the former seventh-round pick.

And who knows, maybe the Browns will have finally struck gold and found that dominant pass rusher so many fans have been salivating for since the team had supposedly found one when they drafted Kam Wimbley.

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Bob is the Founder, Site Director and Senior Writer of Cleveland Sports Zone. He has been writing about sports for over nine years thanks to his passion for Cleveland sports and a Journalism degree. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, ESPN, USA Today and other major sports networks.

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