Teradja Mitchell’s chance to start for Ohio State at linebacker should finally come in 2021.
Many people expected Mitchell, the No. 44 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2018, to play a substantial role in Ohio State’s defense much sooner. Instead, he’s had to wait his turn for three years behind the likes of Malik Harrison, Pete Werner, Tuf Borland, Baron Browning and Justin Hilliard. Mitchell hasn’t yet started a game for the Buckeyes and has played only 196 defensive snaps, recording 19 total tackles.
Of course, Mitchell has been antsy to play more. But he hasn’t let that affect his dedication to the Buckeyes.
“It’s been very difficult, but it’s a commitment I made to this program my junior year (of high school) when I committed,” Mitchell said Thursday. “I’m all in on this program, and I knew that in the end, it was gonna work out for me. So I just kept my head down and worked every day.”
Now, Mitchell’s patience and perseverance should finally pay off. All of the linebackers who played more snaps than Mitchell last season are now pursuing NFL careers, putting Mitchell in position to become one of the new leaders of Ohio State’s linebacker unit along with fellow fourth-year Dallas Gant, who’s currently sidelined by a foot injury. While Al Washington and the Buckeyes have been tight-lipped about the linebacker depth chart so far, Mitchell is expected to take Werner’s place in the lineup as the starting Will linebacker.
He has big shoes to fill as both a leader and a player, given that Borland and Hilliard were both captains last season while Werner was a first-team All-Big Ten linebacker and Butkus Award semifinalist in 2020. But he’s excited to take on that responsibility.
“There’s been a blueprint set out with those four guys that just left us, and I just kind of followed the blueprint. Stepped into the role of I’ve gotta be the leader in the room now, being the older guy,” Mitchell said. “Tuf, Pete, Baron and Justin Hilliard, I just came in and learned from those guys. Obviously with me being a natural leader, I just developed my leadership even more just watching those guys. And now that I’m a senior, I have the ability to lead. It’s just natural for me.”
Assuming he does take over as the new starting Will linebacker, Mitchell will bring an attacking mindset to Ohio State’s defensive lineup.
“I’d say I’m a very aggressive linebacker,” Mitchell said. “I’m a contact-seeker. I love contact. So I look forward to thumping some guys.”
Even though Mitchell hasn’t seen the field much yet in his Ohio State career, he’s still been developing along the way. Specifically, Mitchell believes he is more mentally ready to make an impact for the Buckeyes now than he was earlier in his career, saying Ohio State has helped him work through his self-diagnosed performance anxiety.
“You just have to get comfortable, you have to play your role and it all comes with just knowing your football IQ and feeling comfortable out there,” Mitchell said. “I feel like that’s the biggest thing, and I think I’ve developed that over this offseason. I watched a lot of film.”
“I’m a contact-seeker. I love contact. So I look forward to thumping some guys.”– Teradja Mitchell on what he brings to the Will linebacker position
Mitchell has also transformed his body. After weighing as much as 255 pounds earlier in his Ohio State career, Mitchell has slimmed down to 235 pounds, which should enable him to play faster.
Following in the footsteps of now-former Ohio State teammate Justin Fields, Mitchell adopted a vegan diet last season, though he’s now more accurately described as a pescatarian after adding seafood back into his diet. And like Fields said last year, Mitchell says he is feeling better than ever before after changing his eating habits.
”Naturally, I’m a big guy … it’s definitely helped me drop weight,” Mitchell said. “I feel faster, I feel quicker. I have a lot more energy than I’ve had previously. So it makes me feel good.”
Although Mitchell has already had three full years to prepare for the opportunity he has this year, he still believes he needs to get better this spring and summer. After watching his film from the 95 snaps he played last year, he wasn’t satisfied.
“I’m very hard on myself,” Mitchell said. “So I definitely have a lot of work to do.”
With so much turnover at the position, Ohio State needs several linebackers to step up in a big way if its defense is going to improve in 2021, and Mitchell might be the most important player among them.
He’s confident he and his teammates will be up to the task.
“This spring, I’m looking forward to putting in the work so in August, I’ll be ready,” Mitchell said Thursday, one day after the Buckeyes’ first padded practice of the spring. “We all know what’s at stake. So we’ve all been playing hard.”