Critical 20: No. 12 Mike Mitchell

Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue of experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent for any reason.

If one went on recruiting reputation alone, sophomore weakside linebacker Mike Mitchell would easily crack the top five in any list of Texas Tech’s most critical players. Mitchell, after all, was a five-star recruit, the top high school linebacker in the state of Texas during his senior year, and a signee of Ohio State, the elite football factory that won the most recent national championship.

But ranking on reputation alone would be a crashingly silly methodology, so I won’t do it. Instead, incorporating several inputs, Mitchell still checks in at a highly respectable No. 12.

We might rate Mitchell somewhat higher than this were it not for a couple of factors. First, as Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported earlier, Mitchell was penciled in as Tech’s starting weakside linebacker. However, in the Petro scrimmage last weekend, Mitchell ran with the twos, while Malik Jenkins held forth with the starters.

In the scrimmage itself, neither Jenkins nor Mitchell particularly distinguished himself. Jenkins was largely invisible, while Mitchell got in on a few tackles—and flashed some good speed—but hardly looked like the game-changer Tech’s defense so desperately needs.

Still, it is early days yet, and as defensive coordinator David Gibbs said in his postgame conference, Mitchell is very rusty, having been out of genuine, competitive football since his senior season of high school in the year 2012.

In any event, Gibbs needs somebody to step up in a major way at weakside linebacker. And odds are good that that somebody will be Mitchell. Even if one were to grant that Mitchell was somewhat overrated coming out of high school—and that is no sure thing—even a slight underrating would still produce an excellent linebacker. If he were to play at a four-star level for Texas Tech rather than like a five-star, that means Mitchell would eventually be an All Big 12 performer and possibly Tech’s best linebacker since Zach Thomas. But that too is hardly a sure thing.

At this point all we can really say is that Mitchell is in a dogfight with Jenkins for a starting berth, that it will be interesting to see how Mitchell develops, and that Tech’s defense, to a certain extent, will ebb and flow along with Mitchell’s development.
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