Mike Mitchell coming into his own

Oakland Raiders safety Mike Mitchell (34) and tackle Richard Seymour pick up and slam Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno to the turf during the second half at Invesco Field at Mile High on October 24, 2010 in Denver. The Raiders decimated the Broncos 59-14. UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom

Need a lesson on how to hit somebody? Mike Mitchell doesn’t. The Oakland Raiders second year strong safety has been coming into his own this year since seeing more playing time due to linebacker Thomas Howard’ unspecified knee injury and Mitchell is taking advantage of his extra playing time this year.

Mitchell first burst into the Raiders’ scene when they shocked Mel Kiper Jr. by drafting the former Ohio Bobcat in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft, the Raiders’ next pick following the highly scrutinized pick of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Come to find out, he may have been on more radars than just the Raiders. Turns out Mitchell may have been one of the best kept secrets of the scouting process that year; a hard-hitting, versatile, very quick, and powerful safety who showed tremendous range in his on-field tape during his time at Ohio.

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And that my friends, is how to hit somebody. You know that you have made good contact when the whole stadium does the unison, “OOOOOOOHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

Trouble was he was raw and many NFL teams want players who are ready to go—with maybe a little bit of polishing—as their second round picks. Mitchell was a project, even in the eyes of some fans who considered the two top picks in this draft to be Al Davis Scholarship players.

But Mitchell could be well on his way to silencing his critics.

“The way he’s improved, particularly in the last three weeks, he does give us an extra bonus in there,” said Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Cable a day after the Denver Broncos game where Mitchell had five tackles, a pass defended, and a forced fumble that helped give the Raiders an early 21-0 lead against their divisional foes. It was an effort that Mitchell received a game ball for following the game.

“He’s a physical player that can run,” Cable continued. “He just seems to get better and better. He stepped right in (for Howard) and has improved with each game.”

Mitchell was a guy who was highly coveted by Tom Cable himself out of Ohio. Cable thought he was very similar to Jack Tatum and Ronnie Lott, and he described Mitchell to the 2009 draft day media as someone who could help the team get back to their old school style of Raiders’ football by “literally knocking people out.”

Mitchell actually got a lot of playing time late in the 2009 season in a specially designed three safety package. And while Mitchell’s play has not yet earned him consideration as a player who could replace starting safeties Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch, Mitchell is making an impact on the field that is getting attention from fans and coaches alike and that is never a bad thing.

Mitchell has great instincts and he has a nose for the ball. Now, at least in the early part of this season, it appears Mitchell is getting a good feel for the scheme he is in as well as the speed of the pro game. At 6’1″ and 220 pounds, Mitchell is pound for pound the Raiders’ most devastating hitter when he gets a chance. But it’s not like he misses tackles looking for that big one either, he is a sure tackler and his first instinct is to make sure his opponent stops gaining yards…immediately.

Based on his play this season and at the end of last year, some folks think that Mitchell should be moved into the starting rotation at safety to help beef up the Raiders rushing defense, which has been hot and cold this year. Some think Michael Huff would be better suited to line up as the Raiders nickel cornerback and could potentially be moved to a starting role opposite Nnamdi Asomugha while Branch and Mitchell roam the defensive backfield picking off wide receivers one by one and making them hear footsteps after catch attempts.

Time will tell what the future hold for Mitchell in the silver and black uniform. He’s said that he and Tyvon are tight and it would be a dream come true to lineup next to Tyvon at safety as the Raiders starter in the future. Tom Cable, however, says the thought of replacing the current safeties is not even in the equation for what the Raiders are doing right now. One thing’s for sure, if Mitchell keeps playing at this level, he will be a large part of the Raiders’ plan moving forward in whatever way they can get him on the field.

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