Bills camp: Mitchell already a favorite with fans
It’s the end of Tuesday’s Buffalo Bills practice, one that was interrupted by a torrential downpour, yet there are plenty of fans who waited through the delay to catch a glimpse of their favorite players.
As it starts to rain again, fans are waiting for autographs, and chants of “Kawika” course through St. John Fisher College’s Growney Stadium.
For Kawika Mitchell, it’s just one reminder of why he came to western New York in the offseason.
The linebacker was signed by the Bills as a free agent last February and not only brings a veteran presence to the rebuilding defense but plenty of confidence after winning a Super Bowl with the New York Giants last season.
“It was a young team, and I thought they had a lot of potential,” Mitchell said about why he came to Buffalo. “I love the fans, too. The fans are amazing. Every time I have come here I have enjoyed it.”
Mitchell played the first four years of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs and then spent last season with the Giants. He started all 16 regular-season games and three postseason games for New York and recorded 87 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks during the regular season.
Bills fans probably best remember Mitchell from his performance on a cold, dreary Sunday last December in Orchard Park. The linebacker returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown and had two sacks in the Giants’ 38-21 victory.
“We were excited with the signing,” said Bills linebacker coach Matt Sheldon. “We thought he would be a great addition, and he is proving to be so far. We have had our eye on Kawika the last couple of years, so we knew a lot about him.”
Mitchell was drafted by the Chiefs with the 47th overall pick in the 2003 draft. He compiled a school-record 367 tackles in 42 games at the University of South Florida.
He played in 12 games his rookie season but really began to assert himself the following year when he finished second on the team with 85 tackles. Mitchell then led the Chiefs in tackles the next two seasons.
But Mitchell remembers far more about his time in Kansas City than just statistics.
“It was great,” he said. “The fans were incredible. (Arrowhead Stadium) was probably the loudest place I have ever played in. It was just a great experience.”
Despite being in his first year with Buffalo, Mitchell is already showing signs of being a leader on the defensive unit. He often is seen working with and tutoring some of the team’s younger linebackers during practices.
Mitchell, along with Angelo Crowell and Donnie Spragan, are the only linebackers on the roster with more than three years of experience.
“It’s an aggressive group,” Mitchell said. “We like to fly around, we like to hit people. We’ll see when the games start how we handle adversity, but so far everything has been going real good.”
Mitchell has been one of the league’s more durable players over the past four seasons, too, having played in 63 out of a possible 64 regular-season games.
Strong health was not something the Bills defense had throughout 2007. Linebackers Keith Ellison, Paul Posluszny and Coy Wire were among the many key defensive players to miss time to injury last year.
“We have a lot more confidence out there, and it comes with the new additions we got like Kawika Mitchell and Marcus Stroud,” said Ellison, who is in his third season at linebacker with Buffalo. “We have guys who can help us be a really good defense. I think that confidence was the biggest thing that was missing from last year.”
If Mitchell can lead the Bills to the team’s first playoff berth since the 1999 season, it would be the third team in three years he has helped get to the postseason. Mitchell played for Kansas City when they reached the playoffs in 2006.
He also is hoping to get to his first Pro Bowl this season.
“I want to help this team get back to the top and get to the playoffs,” Mitchell said. “I want to win our division and make a run and get that trip to Hawaii.”
Bryan Sullivan is covering Bills training camp for Messenger Post Newspapers. He can be reached at (585) 394-0770 ext. 273 or email@example.com.