"It's kind of a big brother thing," he says. "I'm trying to help the guys out. They're here to play football, too, and I'm trying to help show them the way."
Mitchell realizes Tennessee's other linebackers look to him for leadership. Redshirt freshman Rico McCoy won't turn 19 until Nov. 6, two days after the Vols host LSU. True freshman LaMarcus Thompson turns 19 Sept. 8, the day before Tennessee hosts Air Force. True freshman Dorian Davis turned 19 in June. None of the three has played a down at the collegiate level.
Sophomore Adam Myers-White, 19, has seen mop-up duty in seven games but has yet to record a tackle. Sophomore Jerod Mayo, 20, has one college start to his credit. Junior Ryan Karl, who just turned 21, has 19 career tackles to show for two years as a backup. Sophomore Ellix Wilson, also 21, has seven career tackles and a redshirt year on his resume'.
Although his fellow ‘backers are clearly lacking experience, Mitchell isn't worried.
"This group's big on talent," he said. "We've just got to get on the same page as far as the playbook. Guys have made a lot of progress as far as learning their assignments, so we can trust six guys to go out there and play."
Mitchell is a "big" brother to his fellow ‘backers in a physical sense, as well. At 6-3 and 240 pounds, he dwarfs Karl (6-0, 215), McCoy (6-1, 215) and Myers-White (6-2, 215). Only Mayo (6-2, 230) and Wilson (5-10, 225) come close to matching Mitchell's bulk.
What the young linebackers lack in heft, though, they make up in quickness. Karl, Myers-White and Wilson began their careers as defensive backs before bulking up and moving to linebacker. Mitchell says that's pretty much standard operating procedure on UT's defense.
"We've got (former) safeties who play linebacker and (former) linebackers who play D-end," he said, "so there's going to be a lot of speed out there."
Karl seems to have locked up the strong-side linebacker spot. Mayo and McCoy appear to be the top candidates for the final starting job … weak-side linebacker.
"Jerod is pretty good," Mitchell conceded. "He's coming off (knee) surgery and making a lot of progress. Rico looks pretty good, too. He's quick, fast and has good instincts. Once he learns his plays he's going to put it all together."
In the meantime, Big Brother will be watching.