Not surprisingly Mitchell, a member of that committee, gets first chance. He will gladly set aside the #4 he's worn at strong safety these three State seasons and carry a new number for one weekend.
"Yeah, it means a lot," said Mitchell after Wednesday's practice. "He was my best friend, my roommate, I'm just hoping I can let him play through me and represent him well." Mitchell has not seen the game jersey yet, by the way, and as for testing it, well… "I probably won't try it on until Saturday." That would be sometime after the Bulldogs arrive in their Tuscaloosa locker room for the 6:15 contest with Alabama.
Whatever the digits on his shirt, Mitchell stands out in Mississippi State's defensive gameplans for this and any weekend. Interestingly though he has not gotten as much attention as he did in impressive freshmen and sophomore campaigns. Probably because he has become such a familiar figure around the football that his play is easier to overlook. Plus, where defensive secondary squadmates like Corey Broomfield, Johnthan Banks, and Nickoe Whitley pick off passes; or package-subs Wade Bonner and Zach Smith blitz from all over; Mitchell is almost numbingly consistent with no spectacular plays to single out.
But look at the final defensive stats and there the name is. In fact Mitchell is third in team tackles with 62, only three in back of linebacker K.J. Wright…and 23 stops ahead of number four on the team. In a sense it is Mitchell's reliable work in the middle of everything that allows cohorts to take chances and make flashier plays.
This matters because as State resumes the season, and puts the six-win streak on the line in a SEC West rivalry, steady Dog defense is the first priority. Especially, Mitchell knows, against an Alabama offense that like himself is more effective than flashy in most cases. If this Tide team is not on a national title track, veteran Dog Mitchell doesn't see a lot of drop-off from 2009.
"No, they're pretty much the same team. A big run, play action team, they'll try to pound it and pound it; and get a db's eyes caught in the wrong place and then, ball over your head and touchdown. So we have to stay disciplined on defense, read our keys, and stop the run."
Keeping emotional discipline isn't as easy as it sounds for State these days. There is the thrill of the winning streak, the longest in Starkville since 1999 back when most of these pups were in elementary school. They also know bowl eligibility is achieved and from now on the Dogs are playing to improve the postseason date-and-address. All exciting stuff, coinciding with the rawer emotions of last week and saying good-bye to a teammate.
This is one reason an older hand like Mitchell gets first turn with his roommate's jersey. Mitchell, hopefully, is less likely to be distracted and able to keep himself and his defense on their immediate job. Or that's what Mitchell hopes.
"It's part of maturity. I have to focus, we have a task at hand this weekend and we have to take care of business and that's going to be my main focus."
Every State player will wear a uniform patch commemorating Bell the rest of this season. And, the Bulldogs will have a final Scott Field game next weekend with some ceremonies set to remember him to the home crowd. That day, somebody else gets to wear #4. Who might that be? Mitchell knows, but…
"I don't know if they want me to put it out. We'll switch it out."