Sometimes the football gods smile down on some players in mysterious ways. Marvin Mitchell had played six NFL seasons with the Saints, Dolphins and Vikings. In that span, he had just three career starts.
But when the Vikings made the decision to not re-sign Jasper Brinkley, there was a shuffling of the deck at linebacker. Erin Henderson was moved inside and Mitchell was slated as No. 1 on the depth chart. But for how long?
Much of the free agent chatter among Vikings fans was that linebacker was going to be a position targeted. The Vikings signed nobody. There was talk that Vikings would use a first-round pick on linebacker Manti Te'o. They didn't. Throughout the offseason, Mitchell remained on top of the Vikings' depth chart as the weakside linebacker.
When Green Bay released Desmond Bishop and the Vikings signed him, many felt it was only a matter of time before he overtook Mitchell. A big thumper in the run game, Bishop was slowed by nagging injuries in training camp, which let Mitchell keep his starting job, but when it was announced last week that Bishop would be starting, Mitchell took it personal.
"I was definitely upset," Mitchell said. "But in this league you have to come here and be ready to work every day regardless of the situation or circumstance. Unfortunately for Des, he went down with a horrible injury. I didn't hang my head down when I found I wouldn't be starting. I was ready for when I was needed and now I can resume the job that I had before."
Bishop was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and Mitchell is back in his starting role.
For Bishop, who has a history of injuries during his career, it might be his last ride with the Vikings or in the NFL. While Bishop's injury re-opened the door for Mitchell, it was also a wake-up call for Mitchell, who was back in the starting lineup in the blink of an eye after being replaced. It showed him once again how quickly fortunes can change for players as their roles expand or diminish because of the ever-present danger of injuries.
"The thing about NFL players is that you have to go out and play like it's your last opportunity," Mitchell said. "Nothing is guaranteed. You never know when you're going to get your next chance. You have to approach it that way and play like it."
Mitchell has learned the hard way about the fickle nature of the NFL. The Vikings were his third team in three years when he joined them in 2012. He was on the cusp of officially being a journeyman – a nomadic linebacker for hire. But this offseason was the first time that Mitchell saw his NFL dream of being a starter in his grasp. He hasn't looked back since.
"I definitely saw it as my opportunity," Mitchell said. "Back in camp it seemed like all the attention was being paid to Erin moving inside. It was great for me because it kind of let me fly under the radar. I was on top of the depth chart, but in the back of my mind, that was how I had viewed myself the whole time. That's how I've prepared myself each and every year since my rookie year – that I was going to be the starter. That's how I took the approach this year too. All the outside noise about Erin moving over and who was going to play the Will linebacker, I just blocked it out. I looked at it (being atop the depth chart), but just kept blocking it out at the same time. I stuck to that approach to achieve my goals and be a starter on this team."
While the Bishop injury thins a linebacker corps that isn't viewed as being very deep, one man's injury is another man's opportunity. After being replaced, Mitchell isn't going to forget that feeling and will use it as motivation moving forward.
"I was really down when I first got the news," Mitchell said. "I'm never going to forget that feeling. The fact that I am back in that position so soon is surprising, but I'm never going to lose sight of the fact that I can lose this job and I don't want to have that feeling again. I'm out working every day, but this time it's to keep my starting job."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Temporary job loss motivates Mitchell
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