COLUMBUS — The physical tools have always been there for Teradja Mitchell at Ohio State.
Now with two seasons of experience for the Buckeyes, Mitchell is fine-tuning the mental side of football.
He didn’t have much of a choice otherwise. Mitchell, a former 4-star linebacker and top-50 player in the class of 2018, was a prime candidate to break out and become a full-time playmaker for the Silver Bullets this past season. Then injuries hit.
Frustrated but understanding of the process, Mitchell used his setbacks to grow.
“It’s been a great learning experience,” he said. “This is my first time ever missing games with an injury. It’s been challenging, but’s it’s really helped me learn the playbook and get an opportunity to develop my mental part of the game.”
While rehabbing his hamstring for a bulk of the season, Mitchell didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t practice or be on the field, so the mental reps were the most important part of his season. As he watched the linebackers who were healthy enough to be on the field, he began to see a vision for what kind of player he might be next season, when the real breakout campaign should come.
“The [growth is with] fundamentals,” he said. “Learning how to use my hands better, getting into the playbook, mentally, just pre-snap, learning where the play is going. Learning the tendencies of different opponents. I feel like that was my biggest leap.”
Yes, Tuf Borland, Pete Werner and Baron Browning all return next season. Playing time won’t be easy. But again, the physical tools are there for Mitchell. He likely would have played a role last season had it not been for the hamstring tweak. Mitchell feels like the mental development is going well. Now, the weight room and practice field are the next steps.
“There’s always room to improve,” Mitchell said. “So this offseason, I’m just going to grind.”
Mitchell is trying to model his game after Malik Harrison, who he backed up during the senior’s final year with the program. And he made sure to take notes based on how the All-Big Ten linebacker played the game. New linebackers coach Al Washington has played a huge role in developing Mitchell, and now he’ll try to get Mitchell to Harrison’s level before next season.
“He’s a great coach,” Mitchell said. “Just having a coach with that much energy, a young coach like that. He’s kind of a relatable coach. He’s not too far out of the game, so just having him around, his energy is contagious every day.”
In his first season at Ohio State, Washington inherited a group that was constantly out of proper gaps and couldn’t seem to tackle well. The Buckeyes thrived defensively last season, though, and Washington is a big reason why. Now, he’s tasked with furthering the development of Mitchell and other young linebackers.
Washington isn’t alone in teaching Mitchell how to play linebacker at a high level, because it isn’t just about playing linebacker.
“I’ve been getting reps at [rushing the passer],” Mitchell said. “Just watching Baron, Tuf and Malik, watching those guys do it and see how it’s done, it’s a great learning experience.”
Learning experience — that was the theme of last season for Mitchell.
But with a healthy hamstring, a full offseason ahead of him and another year to show he can be a breakout candidate, Teradja Mitchell has big plans for 2020.