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RedThat
08-08-2005, 09:17 AM
Posted on Mon, Aug. 08, 2005

Mitchell's the man in the middle

Once maligned linebacker poised to start for Chiefs

By ADAM TEICHER

The Kansas City Star

RIVER FALLS, Wis. — When it comes to popularity, middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell is nowhere in sight on any list of Chiefs fan favorites.

Mitchell has been a major underachiever since joining the Chiefs as their 2003 second-round draft choice. His often faulty instincts and frequently sloppy tackling were symbolic of the team’s lousy defense.

That’s why the Chiefs are pulling hard for Mitchell, a key figure at a key position. So the sighs of relief have almost been audible at training camp as the Chiefs watch Mitchell make play after play.

He’s sniffing out running plays, picking his way through blockers and often arriving to the backfield in time. On passing plays, he has been disruptive by jumping into throwing lanes.

It’s enough to make the Chiefs believe that Mitchell, after a frustrating wait, is finally delivering on his potential.

“He may have been slow in his development, but he turned the corner the latter part of last year,” said Lynn Stiles, the Chiefs’ director of football operations. “We all had hopes it would carry over, and it has. Now his confidence level is rising every day.

“If he continues to grow and have a good preseason, he’s going to be right where we wanted him to be way back when, when we drafted him. It just takes some guys longer to develop than others. It all has to come together. It can take time, and most of us aren’t patient as it relates to that.”

Before rendering a final opinion on Mitchell, the Chiefs want to see him in preseason games, which for them begin with Friday night’s game at Minnesota. Tackling, which is rare at training camp, is an issue.

“I’m ready to turn up the physical part of my game,” Mitchell said. “That’s getting to the ball, that’s hitting, that’s putting the guy on the ground.”

If Mitchell’s improvement holds up in games, the maddening thoughts for the Chiefs will be these: What took him so long? Why didn’t he develop as a rookie in 2003, when the defense collapsed after Mitchell replaced the injured Mike Maslowski? Why not last season, when a terrible defense ruined a promising season?

They can contemplate those questions all they like, but they might not come up with any answers.

“It was just my time,” Mitchell said with a shrug. “I’ve been learning, learning about offensive formations and learning about our defense and things like that. I just got more comfortable. When you’re comfortable, you can fly around and make more plays.

“I’m more into my game. I think it started at the end of last season. I started coming around then.”

Mitchell was a subject of much offseason angst for defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. His initial thought after the Chiefs signed veteran linebacker Kendrell Bell was to put him in the middle and shift Mitchell to the outside, where he would have been one in a crowd competing for a job.

The Chiefs decided against that. Yet they sent Rich Scanlon to NFL Europe in hope he would return a better player and challenge Mitchell. They also drafted Boomer Grigsby.

There is no competition at middle linebacker, however. Mitchell will be the starter for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the Jets at Arrowhead Stadium.

That was no sure thing during the offseason, when Cunningham and Mitchell had some pointed and occasionally heated conversations.

“He takes on challenges really well, and it’s fortunate he does,” said linebacker Scott Fujita, a friend of Mitchell’s. “He got called out. He and Gun had a lot of conversations during the offseason. He’d get ticked off like the rest of us but he channeled that in the right direction. He was determined to get the job done.”

Mitchell could use injuries as a crutch. Camp ailments in each of the last year may have impeded his progress.

“We talked about it in the offseason, and I told him that I didn’t want to hear it,” Cunningham said. “I didn’t want any excuses. You have to be professional and act like you are a three-year linebacker and that you started for three years and carry it over to the practice field.”

Cunningham was further encouraged when Mitchell took charge at a recent practice and told Cunningham to leave the defensive huddle. He also took Cunningham’s advice to start accepting his share of the blame for the Chiefs’ defensive struggles.

“I’ve started to realize that comes with being the leader,” Mitchell said. “I’m the middle linebacker. When something goes wrong, people are going to look at you first. It’s just like being the quarterback, only on defense. I know it wasn’t only me, but that’s something I’m willing to accept.

“That’s why I love being the middle linebacker. You’re always involved in something. I love the responsibility.”

htismaqe
08-08-2005, 09:22 AM
Cunningham was further encouraged when Mitchell took charge at a recent practice and told Cunningham to leave the defensive huddle.

That's the best thing I've heard the entire offseason.

Mr. Laz
08-08-2005, 10:31 AM
That's the best thing I've heard the entire offseason.
parker is the original mitchell pimp

htismaqe
08-08-2005, 10:32 AM
parker is the original mitchell pimp

Yep, and it's nice to have hope again.

chief4life
08-08-2005, 10:41 AM
this is a cool pic of Michell and DJ :thumb:

Chiefs Pantalones
08-08-2005, 12:19 PM
I'll believe Mitchell is a different player when he's making plays vs. the Jets, not in training camp or in preseason.

Pitt Gorilla
08-08-2005, 12:56 PM
I thought we were going to cut him; don't you guys read CP?

|Zach|
08-08-2005, 01:09 PM
I have been behind him all along! Hells ya!

vailpass
08-08-2005, 01:09 PM
Sweet.

philfree
08-08-2005, 02:06 PM
If Mitchell’s improvement holds up in games, the maddening thoughts for the Chiefs will be these: What took him so long? Why didn’t he develop as a rookie in 2003, when the defense collapsed after Mitchell replaced the injured Mike Maslowski? Why not last season, when a terrible defense ruined a promising season?


It shouldn't be hard for anyone to understand why Mitchell has struggled. The guy was injured in each of his 1st two years as a Chiefs and that 1st year was under Greg Knobinson. IMO anyone who can't see why he was slow to pick up his pro game isn't looking very dang hard. I wonder if the fans would give Boomer a little more time before they started calling for his head had it been him instead of Mitchell?


PhilFree:arrow: