The senior linebacker received a second chance, however, and he is certainly making the most of it. Five games into the 2006 season Marvin Mitchell is leading the Southeastern Conference in tackles at 10.4 per game. Rather than gloating, though, he’s looking to maintain his red-hot pace.
“It feels pretty good,” the 6-3, 235-pounder from Norfolk, Va., said. “You look at the paper or a stat sheet and see your name at the top of the list, you just know that you’ve got to go out and keep doing like you’re doing. “
Typically, Tennessee’s defensive linemen clog the line of scrimmage, freeing Vol linebackers to make most of the tackles. And, typically, the middle linebacker makes more stops than the other ‘backers.
“When the opportunities come your way, you’ve got to be up there to take them,” Mitchell said. “I’ve just been in a position to make a lot of tackles.”
Team player that he is, Mitchell credits his individual success to the quality play of his fellow Vols.
“The guys up front are helping out a lot,” he said, “and we’ve got two other linebackers that are filling gaps and sometimes that might turn a play right back to me.”
Mitchell saw considerable action the past three years but only worked his way into the starting lineup this fall. That has changed his approach a bit.
“You probably watch a little more film and know what you’re doing more,” he said. “You better yourself throughout the season, especially when you’re playing as much as you do (as a starter). That’s one thing I’ve been able to do – get better each game by seeing what I did wrong in the past game.”
Defensive coordinator John Chavis is pleased, but not terribly surprised that Mitchell is leading the league in stops.
“He’s doing a real good job,” Chavis said. “It’s exciting to say he’s the leading tackler in the league but you wish he wasn’t. You wish he hadn’t played that many snaps.”
As pleased as Chavis is with Mitchell, he’s just as pleased with outside linebackers Ryan Karl and Jerod Mayo. They haven’t been as productive but they’ve been just as effective.
“A lot of people had some question marks about Ryan Karl but he’s done a tremendous job,” the coordinator said. “If we can get Mayo healthy … we haven’t seen what he’s really capable of doing. He’s been beat up and it’s hard to get well during the season. I just hope he can get well enough that we can get him back to about 95 percent.”
Karl and Mayo are playing so well that Rico McCoy, one of the finest athletes on the team, can’t crack the starting lineup.
“He’s getting closer every week,” Chavis said. “I feel very comfortable with him being in the game right now. He’s getting a little more playing time each week. Even though Mayo’s been hurt, it’s hard pulling him out and getting Rico in.
“At some point in time – it probably won’t be this year – you’re going to see those guys on the field together.”