by Chris Warner
During his freshman season at North Carolina, defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell forced a fumble at the goal line in the waning seconds to preserve a 30-24 victory over N. C. State. Despite the hoopla surrounding what came to be knows as “the play” at UNC, Mitchell ended up transferring to East Carolina after his sophomore season.
He racked up his best statistics in his junior year as a Pirate, but various injury woes in 2008 prevented him from improving further. Now in good health, Mitchell has had successful workouts at both the combine and his pro day to bump up his draft standing.
Last week, he talked with PD about defensive line play and his versatility in different schemes.
What are you doing down there (in North Carolina)?
I’m training right now, still working over there at my school. I was getting ready, I’ve got a workout with the Giants coming up. Down here, I was pretty much just relaxing with my dogs. I’ve got (to) square stuff away because at the end of this month I’m done with my lease, and I’ll pretty much know where I’m going as far as a team and everything. I got a birthday coming up, so I was training and getting ready for that. (I’m) about to go get me a suit or something.
If you’re training for your birthday, it must be a pretty hardcore party.
(Laughs) It’s going to be pretty good, man. I’ve just got my family in town. I’m actually going to Chapel Hill. I’m going to hang out with a couple of guys from the basketball team. Hopefully I can be there (to) celebrate their win with them and I can celebrate my birthday at the same time.
I hope so. It looks pretty good for them.
(Yes.) I’ve got a lot of friends that play for them: Michael Copeland, (Will) “Special” Graves, a couple of guys from over there. I know a couple of them, you know, they’re seniors now. I knew a lot of them from before, Rashad McCants, and all those other guys who left before now. So I’m just celebrating with the guys who are still there, pretty much just saying hello and goodbye.
In terms of working out, what’s your schedule like? What do you do every day?
As far as my schedule, what I do everyday is I wake up in the morning, take my dogs out for a walk, pray. Then I go out, run the stadium, do some stretching, come back home, relax and play my X-box, and talk to different teams, my agent, and my family.
What teams have you been talking with?
I talked to the Bills, the Patriots, the Browns, the Giants, the 49ers, Tampa Bay and the Jaguars.
Did the Patriots talk at all about where you might project in a 3-4 defense?
Yeah, they told me they wanted me to play defensive end. The coach told me that, you know, there’s no defensive end out there, (it’s) just clogging up holes. We talked to the defensive line coach and the defensive coordinator. I talked to them, and they were telling me just about how they plan on attacking. They were really concerned about me playing the defensive end position. They didn’t say anything about my weight or anything. I’m still at 315, I actually came down from my weight at the combine when I was 319. I was just talking to them about how their defense is run and where they see me playing on their defense…They told me at the defensive end position. Like I said, when I was at (North) Carolina as a true freshman, I started at 315 at defensive end, man, and to be (back at) 315 now is just great.
Where did you play along the line at East Carolina? Did you switch around a lot, or were you mostly inside?
Oh, they switched (us) around. We had some packages, actually. At East Carolina, we had a package where I played defensive end, it was more or less a 4-3 defense with a defensive scheme. I played the three technique, started there. But as far as where I played and where I didn’t, we had a package where we widened out the defensive ends and pretty much stood up…our other defensive end actually to linebacker, which we made a 3-4 out of. We threw some schemes around, but primarily we were a zone, 4-3 defense. I didn’t see much action at defensive end. When I started at Chapel Hill, you know, that was a more natural position for me. I pretty much like that position; I’m pretty comfortable with it.
I can play anywhere, man: on the inside or on the outside, it doesn’t matter. I can handle it. Anywhere they want me to play, I can play. I can help out a team in any facet. Starting off playing defensive end as a true freshman and a sophomore, and then moving to defensive tackle because of a player getting injured, allowed me to – now, my senior year – be able to be more versatile in what I do, as far as playing the outside, handling things inside. My coach always told me, anybody can play outside, but everybody can’t come from outside, so to be able to do that on any scheme is pretty good.
Were you more of a penetrating lineman in the 4-3?
Yes I am. I was just: attack. Check my guy, hold my gap down, and attack upfield. (I’m) very good (at) passrusher. I’m pretty good at the run-stop also, but we play all run-stop, and I’ll survive. I’ll survive attack mode. Our coach always said, no matter what, it’s always run until you see pass, so he told us to play it like a pass until you find the run. That’s how we played our defense primarily. To sum it all up: what I did as a three technique was, I played left side, so I played the nose or the three technique depending on the strength of the offense. You know, it was upfield, man. Just go upfield, control your gap. If you can, go ahead and make a play.
Now, when you talk about a three technique, take a little time to explain that for readers who might not know.
Okay, the three technique is a defensive tackle technique…The zero technique – or what they call the nose technique, which is the one, or zero, or the two-I – you’re pretty much in-between the center and the guard. You’re right there in the midst of everything as far as where the play’s happening at, where the ball is, and things that are going on in front of your face are happening pretty quick. When you’re at the three technique, it’s sort of like a shallow defensive end. What the three technique (lineman) does is, he’s pretty much between the tackle and the guard…You can (also) play what they call a four-I, which is outside of the offensive tackle.
What I do (in the three) is pretty much what the defensive end does, as far as he has containment. But what I have is a lot more primarily focused on making sure I hold that gap down and set an edge, just so the edge doesn’t have to go all the way out to the defensive end and I can create (that edge) at the three technique.
Let’s say (I’m) at the three technique and there’s a pass. If (outside the offensive tackle) the defensive end is out there and he can’t get inside, what can happen is, if I get upfield enough, the defensive end would naturally come inside, because I’ll replace his position. What the three technique does is, like I said, run first, but (on) the pass (he becomes) like a shallow defensive end. He comes in and sets the edge. Naturally, it balances out to be almost like a 3-4 on almost every pass situation, because you’re always going to get double-teamed when you’re playing nose technique or the three technique, which is the other tackle position. But, you know, there’s not much, man. Once you go out there, it’s just like playing defensive end, you’ve just got two guys on you.
So it really translates from a defensive tackle in a 4-3 to a defensive end in a 3-4.
All right. So, how do you feel about how your testing has gone and (how) your interviews are going?
I feel very confident. I took a heck of a lot of tests at the combine. I mean, it was test after test. I did some interviews with teams, also, and talked to a lot of defensive coaches. I feel very confident about how things are going. I feel very good about the process and how everything’s going to balance out. Like I said, man, I just got to continue to work hard and put myself in a good position so that, when the time comes, whatever team takes me, I’ll be ready to go. I’m not trying to go to a team and sit out for a year, you know, I’m trying to go to a team and play. My goal for my first year is to make it to the Pro Bowl, any way I can…I’m going to try to do some special teams, mainly just to keep getting some plays, just to do things. I just want teams to see me as somebody’s who’s going to come into a team and help a team out.
You know, I don’t believe that I can do it by myself. I just believe that, going in to a team, I can help out the guys who are there. I bring a lot of energy to a team, and I bring a lot of experience. I bring a lot of emotion to the game, and I think that’s crucial when you talk about the next level. As far as, when you’re playing…every game’s going to be big. I know, being a new guy, being a rookie at it is not going to be easy, but I’m planning to learn from a lot of guys that’s there.
Being at the Patriots, man, they got a lot of veteran guys and a lot of seasoned guys there that can help me out. You know, I just started playing football in eleventh grade, and I’d never even seen a playbook until college. So to have just four years of seeing a playbook, and playing, and to be in this process is just great, man. I had a downfall at the end of my senior career as far as my injury status and how it inhibited me from playing to finish off my season, but I also had a good game at the Texas vs. Nation Game, and I did very well at the combine. I’m very enthusiastic about things (and) how they’re going to go.
So you feel like you’re 100 percent back from the injury?
Yes. Oh, yeah, the scouts, when I went to the combine, they weren’t even worried about my back. They asked me to do a series of tests, and then another doctor said, “Well, how’s his back?” (They) said, “His back is fine.”
Sounds good. How do you feel about your prospects on (draft weekend)?
I feel very well. I’ve talked to a lot of teams. I don’t know exactly how the whole process works – I’ve got to make a couple calls to a couple guys and see how everything happens – but, you know, I’m very enthusiastic about everything. I’m very upbeat. I’ve talked to a lot of teams. I know, I was talking to my agent, and he was telling me, some teams don’t bring you in as far as a workout, because they try to pretty much hide their hand, almost like poker not to show what they’re going to do…I got a call from a guy from the Browns, and then my mom called me yesterday and told me that the coach had sent her a letter telling them that they would love to have me on their team, and they would feel honored if I would be a part of it. So it’s just…seeing how things go, man. I don’t really know. I don’t know how things are going to go but I know that it’s going to get better, and I know that whenever the time comes, I’ll be ready.
Sounds great. Thanks so much, Khalif. I really appreciate it.
No problem…I thank you for the call and appreciate your time, Chris.