The most respected player on the Sooner defense is senior Lance Mitchell. His maturity, athletic ability and confidence seem to calm the Sooner defense and give it confidence at the same time.
Mitchell came all the way back from ACL knee surgery to play in the spring. And now, OU Defensive Coordinator/Linebacker Coach Brent Venables says the injury will be a blessing in disguise because Mitchell will be a much better player as a redshirt senior then he would have been as a senior.
Mitchell is having a monster summer and recently sat down with OUInsider.com for the EXTRA.
JH: How were able to rehab that knee injury so fast?
LM: "I guess it was just a lot of want to and a lot of have to. I just stayed with the plan that my strength coach, Coach (Jerry) Schmidt, had for. We just stuck with it. I just kept working until I felt real comfortable and mentally safe to go out and play as hard as I could."
JH: Was it harder mentally or physically?
LM: "I think it was more physical than mental. Mentally, I never really thought about pain or re-injuring myself. I just felt like I had to get stronger and I would be alright again."
JH: If you remember during two-a-days after the injury you were running and cutting on the knee, and you even told me that you thought you could play on it?
LM: "Yes, I remember it, and at first I thought I was going to play on it. At first I didn't think I tore my ACL because my knee didn't hurt. I just thought I tweaked something, but the doctors told me I tore my ACL the night of the injury. I was hoping they told me something wrong. But after their evaluation on my knee, they weren't wrong. I believe it was the week after my injury and we were scheduled to play UCLA. I was going through drills with the linebackers and I was moving around OK, which was surprising to me. But I knew I couldn't play even if it felt like I could."
JH: Wouldn't you say that the fact you could move around after you tore you ACL shows just how strong you are in your lower body?
LM: "Yeah, that comes from all the work that you do out there with Coach Schmidt. I am telling you that if anybody gets hurt you won't be able to tell they were ever hurt, because Coach Schmidt just physically makes you do so much to get back."
JH: Coach (Brent) Venables says you may be the best instinctive linebacker that he has every coached. That is saying something when you consider he has coached Butkus winners Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman, as well as Torrance Marshall. How did you develop those instincts?
LM: "I just think that it comes from playing football for so long. I have always been a linebacker, so basically through my years of playing I have learned to move myself around a little better. It is just so natural to me. I guess that is why they say that I am so instinctively good. I feel like I just play."
JH: In other words, you have played linebacker so much that it is second nature to you now?
LM: "Exactly. It is second nature to me now. It took me a good while to get to this point. Coach 'V' just knows linebackers so well and knows how you are supposed to move around. Technically, I have put in whatever he taught me and it is working out great for me now."
JH: How much does it help you playing for a great coach like Coach Venables?
LM: "Man, I think that is one of the best things that has happened to me up to this point. He is a guy who hates to lose as much as I do, has the will to win as much as I do, and you couldn't ask for a better situation in a coach and a team."
JH: You have a number of young linebackers coming up in the system. What would you tell them to do as far as trying to learn from Coach Venables?
LM: "My main thing would be to tell them to always be ready and to be mentally tough to play for a coach like that. The way that Coach is going to handle it - is that he is going to want to push you to the next level. He always wants to push you to be the best. My best advice to the young guys would be to stay focused and never get discouraged. I would tell them to trust the coach and that everything will be alright."
JH: Do you think about the possibility for post season awards at all?
LM: "No, not really. I have talked to Coach Venables once and he told me that some of the magazine articles made him sick to his stomach, because they had me ranked so low in some of the ratings. Now it seems some other people are praising me for what I have been doing and that makes me happy. That stuff really doesn't bother me as long as our team gets awards. I have never been much for individual awards anyway."
JH: You have two starters back at linebacker and then a bunch of young guys around you. How good can this linebacker core be?
LM: "The sky is the limit for this group. We are working extremely hard this off-season to get guys mentally and physically ready. We are behind the radar as far our LB corps, according to the national people, and I want to stay under the radar until the time is right. We are going to shine when we need to shine. I am not worried about where they have us rated right now. I truly feel that by the end of the season we will be the best linebacker corps in the country."
JH: You lose some great talent on defense, but I guess that happens every year at Oklahoma doesn't it?
LM: "I don't think we are going to miss a beat. It may take some time to jell as a core, but once we get going we are going to be good as a group. Every team loses some good players on their team, but it up to the guys behind them to come in and pick up the pace where they left off. We do have the guys, or the talent to do that, but time will tell if the guys have the heart to do it."
JH: Who has impressed you during seven-on-seven drills this summer?
LM: "Zac Latimer grabs my attention, I guess, because he plays middle linebacker. I like how he moves and how he plays the game. Clint Ingram has also caught my eye because of his athletic ability. At cornerback, Eric Bassey is looking real good. David Robinson at wide receiver is small, but I like that guy. He is an extremely hard worker and a good ball player. I wouldn't be surprised to see him out on the field on Saturday's."
JH: You didn't finish last season on a good note, so how does that drive you this summer?
LM: "My feelings are still hurt from Kansas City. I am really looking forward to going up to Kansas City this year for the Big 12 Championships. I have to have a chip on my shoulder nationally, but our team will all have a chip. We will know what we have to do to get it done. Our team is going to be as good as anybody else, so we might as well go ahead and win it all."
OU's Mitchell leads 'D'
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