Forced to sit out the entire 2002 season due to a lung injury, second-year lineman Qasim Mitchell has showed the skills that made the Browns sign the undrafted free agent from North Carolina A & T in April of 2002.
But breaking into the Browns lineup still won't be easy – especially when the solid, versatile Shaun O'Hara, who started all 16 games in 2002, including one at center, stands in front of him. O'Hara played the entire first half of the Browns' 38-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers, helping the first team on four scoring drives and creating a hard act to follow for Mitchell.
Mitchell responded by playing as solid as an offensive lineman could in a preseason contest. With little or no scouting report on the Packers, the Browns obviously kept the play calling simple, an approach that allowed Mitchell to showcase his sharp technique.
There was little chance to evaluate Mitchell during his first series, as the Packers ushered Browns quarterback Josh Booty off the field in three plays, and even less of an opportunity on the next series when Nate Hybl tossed an interception on the drive's first play.
Although the offense sputtered, Mitchell was aware of his assignments and his steps, which he put to use on the next posession, an eight-play jaunt that ended in a Chris Gardocki punt.
Running back James Jackson chewed up chunks of yards, mostly due to Mitchell's ability to get to linebackers before they could fill a hole. The process isn't easy considering Mitchell had a lineman over him that either angled of slanted on every play, but Mitchell never hesitated in his steps, and in the NFL every fraction of a second counts.
Once Mitchell blocked a linebacker, he never disengaged. It was easy to see Mitchell – he was the one driving a linebacker ten yards away from a play. Mitchell also showed the ability to pull, which he did twice, executing a seal and a kick-out block almost flawlessly.
But what may have been most impressive about Mitchell was his pass-blocking ability. A few plays, Mitchell had no one over him, which allowed him to help him to help the center by crashing down on the nose tackle. This ability is often seen, but unfortunately it most of the time the play ends when a backer blows right by the guard on a delayed blitz. This didn't happen with Mitchell.
Not only did Mitchell get to the backer in time, he did so with sound technique, not letting the blitzer into his body. Mitchell quickly set, and got his hands up before the linebacker making him impervious to a swim move or any other pass-rushing technique.
Following the game, Browns head coach acknowledged that Mitchell is pressing for a starting job – a choice every coach in the NFL would like to make.