Teradja Mitchell’s time appears to finally have arrived.
After coming to Ohio State with much fanfare as a top linebacker in the 2018 recruiting class, Mitchell’s path to playing time has been filled with roadblocks over his first three years in Columbus as he’s waited behind a host of more experienced players.
Now heading into his senior season, Mitchell has been a mainstay with the first-team linebackers through the beginning stages of camp. His performance this summer comes on the heels of an impressive showing in spring practice that earned the praise of defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs as some of the best football he’s played since arriving on campus.
Although Mitchell surely wishes his number had been called earlier in his career, the 6-foot-2 native of Virginia Beach, Virginia is choosing to focus only on the opportunity presently in front of him rather than the journey it took to get there.
“It was a great feeling,” Mitchell said Thursday of getting starting repetitions. “I’ve been working for this moment for a long time, and I’ve just been patient. I’m on God’s timing, so whatever he has for me, that’s the time. I’ve just been putting my head down and working. It felt good going out there with the first team.”
No single position group was hit harder by attrition this offseason than at linebacker for Ohio State. With each of the Buckeyes’ top four producers now vying for roster spots in NFL training camps, linebackers coach Al Washington has his work cut out for him in identifying who will lead the unit into the 2021 season. While still early in camp, Mitchell’s growth over the offseason may make at least part of Washington’s looming decisions easier.
“He’s just shown me,” Washington said of Mitchell. “He’s matured, his preparation, his consistent effort. Obviously, he has to perform, and he’s been doing that. He’s been really working at it … he’s eager to go out and do what he loves to do, and that’s play football. The best thing about football is when you get on the field, your play speaks for itself. He’s done that, and I am really proud of what he’s done so far in this camp.”
Washington also praised Mitchell’s willingness to step into a leadership role off the field and “having more of a voice, which is great to see.”
Asked where he’s made the biggest jump heading into this season, Mitchell said he’s put an emphasis on becoming a smarter player, which will allow him to play faster on the field.
“The biggest thing is when I go out there, I want to be able to anticipate what is coming instead of reacting,” Mitchell said. “So, I’ve been watching a lot of film and just understanding what offenses are trying to run against us, what they’re trying to scheme against us. That’s been the biggest improvement.”
Mitchell, for all of his physical talent, also isn’t lacking in confidence. However, he said the confidence both he and the entire linebacker room possesses isn’t any sort of false bravado. Rather, the belief in their abilities is a byproduct of the work they’ve put in this offseason.
“We’re very confident, but with confidence comes work. That’s the work we’ve put in this summer,” Mitchell said. “We’re grinding, extra work. We’re staying back extra, we came here early. We’re ready and very confident.”
While there appears to be no lack of confidence inside the linebackers room, the unit remains one of the biggest question marks to many outside of the program. That talk surrounding the Buckeyes linebackers hasn’t been lost on Mitchell, who made it clear he and his teammates are well aware of what is being said about them ahead of the season.
“We hear that. We hear that we’re question marks and we’re inexperienced, we’re this, we’re that. But we’re here, and we’re putting in the work,” he said.
How the starting unit ultimately looks at Minnesota, or how many players are firmly in rotation to see the field remains to be seen. Washington suggested a depth chart is starting to take shape, but also noted there is still plenty of time for guys to rise or fall.
“We have a good idea, but again, we’re still in the dog days of camp,” Washington said. “This is day eight we just finished up, which there is still a lot there. So, whether we rotate or how we rotate as a defense, I think that depends on how things shake out. But there’s still a good bit of time left.”
Whoever sees the field, Washington said he simply wants them to follow in the footsteps of the guys that were ahead of them in years past.
“Sometimes when you lose great guys, or great guys move on, the benefit is the guys that are next, they can get a blueprint of how it’s done right … so much of what we do is what you can see, and so my expectation is for those guys to learn from that. And they have,” he said. “They’ve carried themselves in a way that’s appropriate, so I’m confident. They’re all talented, so we just have to go play.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.