Mike Mitchell Impresses With Speed In Scrimmage


Last week we examined the spring scrimmage performance of Texas Tech defensive tackle, Breiden Fehoko. Today let’s take a look at how Tech’s other prized newcomer, Mike Mitchell, fared in the Midland scrimmage.

Mitchell was a five-star recruit out of high school when he chose to attend Ohio State. After playing in only one game for the Buckeyes, Mitchell was hurt and missed the remainder of his freshman season. During this time, Mitchell decided that he wanted to be closer to his hometown of Plano, Texas in large part because his father is facing medical issues.

Since he stepped on campus, Mitchell has been one of the most talked about players on the roster, despite not yet playing in a game. Stories of his amazing athleticism (he was the top performer in the athletic fitness challenge at The Opening — a summer football camp sponsored by Nike where only the top high school players in the country are invited to attend) began to permeate the message boards, and video of his high school playing career (during which he averaged 18 tackles per game his senior season) wowed Red Raiders everywhere.

After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules (like every other player has to do…I’m talking to you, Baker Mayfield), Mitchell made his pseudo debut to Tech fans in the March 28th Midland scrimmage.

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It appears that Texas Tech plans to use Mitchell on special teams coverage units, which makes sense due to his speed and size. The scrimmage began with a live kickoff and Mitchell was on the coverage unit. Although he did not make the tackle, he was one of the first coverage team members to arrive at the kick returner.

Tech’s special teams have been lackluster in recent years. The want of quality depth has forced Tech to employ starters on special teams meaning that the starters are forced to expend even more energy. Having talented players like Mitchell to man the special teams will help preserve the energy of the starters, and hopefully be a part of the remedy to the Red Raiders’ penchant for falling apart in the 4th quarter.

Mitchell did not see any first-team repetitions, which might dampen the fires of fans assuming he will start this fall. Mitchell was on the second team defense and played outside linebacker, which allows him to use his amazing athleticism in a variety of ways.

Fans had to wait until the 4th defensive series to see Mitchell at linebacker. During the scrimmage, defensive coordinator David Gibbs used experienced players like Pete Robertson in various ways such as blitzing, dropping into coverage, or stunting across the line. However, Gibbs did not ask Mitchell to do as much.

Keep in mind that Mitchell has not played in a game in two years so he is obviously rusty. He also is inexperienced and has only had a handful of practices under coach Gibbs. Therefore, Mitchell spent most of the day dropping into coverage or staying in position to stop the run. He did not blitz during the scrimmage, but fans can expect that to change once Mitchell becomes more familiar with Gibbs’ system.

Mitchell made no impact plays, forced no turnovers, and recorded no sacks, but what he showed was proof of that his tremendous athleticism is no myth.

In the clip below, Mitchell (No. 52) initially becomes entangled in the mash-up in the middle of the field as running back Demarcus Felton (No. 27) breaks the run to the outside. Notice how quickly the 6’3”, 229-pound Mitchell closes on the 5’7”, 188-pound Felton.

Tech has not had a linebacker with Mitchell’s speed during the Air Raid Era — if ever. But notice that Mitchell’s mere presence causes Felton to head out of bounds. The speed with which the first defender can get to the ball carrier is essential because it slows the ball carrier and allows the rest of the defense to arrive on the scene.

Another example of Mitchell’s speed is evident in the clip below as he applies late pressure to the QB. Mitchell initially drops into coverage, but once the QB breaks the pocket the speedy LB closes in on the passer like a missile. Mitchell quickly arrived at the passer, disrupting his vision and forcing an incompletion.

The Big 12 is full of mobile QB’s (including our own Pat Mahomes) who can break the pocket and make huge plays down field. Mitchell could help contain players like TCU’s Trevone Boykin who can be lethal when they break the pocket. In the Big 12, speed on defense is essential when facing teams that spread the field. Mitchell has the athleticism to cover the field from sideline to sideline.

As you can see in the above video, David Gibbs speaks with cautious optimism about the daily growth of both Breiden Fehoko, and Mike Mitchell. As is the case with Fehoko, it is unfair to expect Mike Mitchell to live up to the hype and expectations placed on him by fans. Those who assume that Mitchell will be a starter from day one may be disappointed on September 5th. The truth is that if he is not the starter, that is a positive for Tech’s defense because it will mean that there are currently three better players at the position. Speed and athletic ability are important but Mitchell must still learn the full defensive scheme because running to the wrong place with tremendous speed does no good.

However, it is fair to expect to see Mitchell make significant progress this season as the rust of two years away from live competition gives way to confidence and comfort on the field. Once Mitchell grasps the system and his responsibilities become second nature, he could be one of the best defenders in the conference. Just don’t expect miracles this season.

Every Tech fan should be excited about Breiden Fehoko and Mike Mitchell. Their athletic skills are desperately needed to improve the Tech defense, and during the spring scrimmage, both players displayed their physical talents, but also seemed raw and unfinished at times. The learning curve for both players will be steep but there is no reason not to believe that Fehoko and Mitchell will soon be integral parts of the foundation upon which David Gibbs will rebuild the Texas Tech defense.