Healthy Mitchell hopes to hold on to Herd linebacker spot
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Every so often, Billy Mitchell makes a statement that he is healthy and won't just give up his spot as first-string linebacker.
You'll have to wrench it away from him.
At Marshall's 10th practice of the spring Tuesday, it was a lunging fingertip interception of Rakeem Cato. Mitchell knew what was coming, partly because he failed to defend it three days earlier at the Thundering Herd's first officiated scrimmage.
"We were in a cover-two concept, tight end went vertical and I saw Cato's eyes on it," Mitchell said. "[Quarterback Blake] Frohnapfel got me on that during the scrimmage last Saturday, threw it right over top of my head. I was just making sure, this time, it wasn't going to happen."
Mitchell started the new week in the middle, alongside weak-side linebacker Stefan Houston on the first unit. That's where they played Saturday, with Jermaine Holmes and Cortez Carter on the second string.
That this lineup remained the same two straight workouts is a potential signal. Before then, defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and position coach Adam Fuller were rotating the four players between the two units, changing each day.
So does one read anything into it, coach Doc Holliday?
"The thing to read into that is those two guys are playing pretty well. Best guys play," Holliday said. "That was a little different package Chuck installed today - it's a substitution package that can take advantage of some of the guys you have.
"Mitchell's had a good spring, and he'll continue to play more."
And, Mitchell hopes, play a concussion-free senior season.
In 2012, the 6-foot-3, 238-pound native of Navarre Beach, Fla., had his spring season interrupted by one concussion and lost the first half of the season to a second. After finally passing the modern-day battery of testing given to concussion victims, he finally debuted in MU's seventh game, at Southern Mississippi.
He started five of those six games, finishing with 34 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble.
Mitchell said he is enjoying Heater's development scheme, which seems to place more emphasis on broad concepts than specific plays. Third-down packages and other details were installed Tuesday.
No small part of Mitchell's role is the development of Houston, the promising freshman right out of prep school.
"He reminds me a lot of Devin Arrington when he first came," Mitchell said. "Really energetic and runs like a deer. So it's fun playing next to him. He sometimes gets frustrated but he's athletic. He's taking leaps and bounds every day."
Corey Tindal, the freshman nickel back and fan of "Honey Badger" Tyrann Mathieu, has cultivated a little rivalry with 1,100-yard receiver Tommy Shuler. Tindal and Shuler seem to cross paths more and more, and their "conversations" get a little spicier.
"We're from [south Florida], he's from Dade [County] and I'm from Broward," Tindal said. "He's tough. He knows the game, he loves the game, he works hard at it. He's always learning."
Tindal is the "midyear prop" out of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., via Atlanta Sports Academy, who became eligible in December. His arrival, along with that of fellow Broward County native Kent Turene, was much anticipated.
Though Turene's spring was cut short by an injury, the anticipation was warranted. Wherever the ball goes, so does No. 19.
"That role is wonderful, being around the ball, kind of taking a 'Honey Badger' role," Tindal said, referring to Mathieu, a 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist. "He played it good, so I watch his film to see what I could learn from him.
"He made the nickel role famous, put it like that."
The Shuler-Tindal rivalry was set aside briefly when Shuler landed awkwardly during one of their impromptu pass-play meetings. Shuler got up holding his wrist (maybe to support his arm or shoulder), and refused to be taken out before the next play.
Shuler's status, other than being earmarked for a reduced workload anyway, is uncertain for Thursday's 3:30 p.m. practice.
Another injury of note: Jordan Jeffries, who has been working at second-team left guard, was held out of contact.
In that "Who was that?" moment, a red No. 8 made a nifty catch at the "Z" receiver position.
The play happened along the western sideline, right next to the closed-off west side of Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Without a closer look, observers on the east side of the stadium thought that might be defensive back Keith Baxter, who has worn a "no contact" red no. 8 this spring.
Guess again. This time it was Andre Scott, the redshirt freshman borrowed from the safeties. With the Herd looking good at the position with Taj Letman and D.J. Hunter on the first unit, this is mildly intriguing.
"He's a tremendous athlete we're trying to get on the field, and we're just taking a look," Holliday said. "End of spring is a time to experiment, if you want to take a look at some people."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.