“He proved pretty quick that he had the technical skills necessary and the education to contribute,” said finance associate Matt Connors, himself a former Tech football player. “A lot of it, he wasn’t that familiar with. He didn’t necessarily come with a real estate background. Some of the concepts were new to him, but he grasped them quickly.”
(Lest you get the wrong impression, Connors is the only other former Tech football player at Dewberry Capital besides the CEO.)
Since his internship ended, Mitchell has continued his absorption of unfamiliar real-estate concepts. Namely, using new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s scheme to help the Yellow Jackets dispossess opponents of wide swaths of yardage. Mitchell has resonated with Woody’s aggressive 3-4 defense.
“As we go along with the process of learning it, and as we install blitz packages and whatever we’re installing right now, we’re really catching on and the guys are loving it,” said Mitchell, who was voted a captain in January. “I love it. I’m able to fly around and run to the ball better than I have in the past. I’m really comfortable with it.”
Those familiar with football-speak and the patois of the preseason in particular will recognize that virtually every player offers similar optimism about the season ahead and in particular with new coaches or schemes. That would include coach Paul Johnson himself, who has cautioned that actual results are necessary before declaring Woody’s defense a success.
“Have you ever heard of a football team or have you ever seen anyone who had a new coach who (said) everything wasn’t great?” Johnson asked early this August.
Still, even Johnson was willing to acknowledge Mitchell’s potential for playing inside linebacker for Woody.
“I think he’s had a really good camp,” Johnson said. “He’s physical. I think this system fits him really well, and he’s kind of taken the leadership role and taken the bull by the horns. I expect that he’ll have a good year.”
For Mitchell, that could mean more plays in the backfield, rushing the passer or stopping run plays in the backfield. In recent seasons, Tech has thirsted for a pass rush and tackles for loss to create takeaways and induce punts. Woody’s expertise in such matters at Appalachian State was why he was tabbed to replace Ted Roof. And in Mitchell, he apparently has an effective puzzle piece.
“I just think he’s physical, and he can play downhill,” Johnson said, explaining Mitchell’s fit for the defense.
Through three seasons, Mitchell has proved he can get to the ball. He ranked fourth on the team in tackles last season with 51 in nine games, but had the highest per-game average with 5.7 tackles per game. The season before, playing alongside P.J. Davis, he had 71 tackles in 13 games, also fourth.
But it appears that he could take steps forward in his play. Mitchell has embraced not being bogged down in his assignments.
“It’s simple,” he said. “We get lined up and we go after it. We’re not really sitting back having to think too much and having to process a lot.”
One area where Mitchell can contribute most is in creating the disruptive plays that Johnson desperately wants out of the defense, which was never better than 118th in tackles for loss per game in Roof’s final four seasons.
Last season, Mitchell had 1.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and no forced fumbles or interceptions. Of those five categories of disruptive plays, Mitchell averaged .83 per game. The nine All-ACC linebackers averaged 1.63.
A combination of the scheme, Mitchell’s experience as a two-year starter and the elevated play of teammates around him can help him become a more playmaking force. Effort won’t be a concern.
“He goes 100 miles an hour all the time,” Johnson said. “So I think the kids respect him because that’s the way he plays.”