James Mitchell got off to a slow start in training camp as the Detroit Lions limited his workload in his return from fall knee surgery.
But while the fifth-round pick out of Virginia Tech still is making his way back physically, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said the rookie has proven to be a quick study.
“James is a little bit different, though, than most rookies," Johnson said Friday on Day 10 of Lions training camp. "I think he kind of separates himself a little bit from those guys just in terms of his mental capacity. He’s been very impressive in the meeting room and in walk-throughs so far the stuff that he has been able to do. So from that aspect, I’m really encouraged."
Mitchell took seven reps in team drills Thursday after being relegated mostly to individual drills the first week of camp.
He participated in seven-on-seven drills earlier this week, and on Thursday he caught a touchdown pass from Tim Boyle in a red zone period.
"There’s definitely a sense of urgency in my mind with the late start obviously in camp and not having OTAs," Mitchell said. "I know when I’m out there I’ve got to make the most of my reps and I need to be efficient when I’m out there to show that I can play."
Johnson said Mitchell, who tore his ACL in Virginia Tech's second game last September, showed an advanced grasp of the offense during walk-throughs as he was integrating into practice.
Going through playbook installation with the second-team offense on the side field, where missed assignments can be common, Johnson said Mitchell has been good about limiting his mistakes.
"He’s quiet in the unit meetings like most of those rookies are," Johnson said. "But (tight ends coach Tanner Engstrand) says anything he tries to stump him on, he nails it. And then it carries over to the walk-through as well. He knows exactly the adjustments that we’re trying to make."
Lions coach Dan Campbell said the team likely is looking for two tight ends to pair with do-it-all starter T.J. Hockenson. Brock Wright and Garrett Griffin are competing for the blocking tight end role, while Mitchell will have to beat out players like Shane Zylstra for the No. 3 job.
Mitchell said he's not sure how much action he will see in the preseason, but is ready for whatever the team feels his knee can handle.
"Coming off the injury, I know that I still need to get a lot of my strength back and quickness back," Mitchell said. "And then mental side, it’s a whole new playbook, different concepts, different things I’ve never seen before. So there’s areas to improve everywhere for me, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and to get better."
Shake, rattle and roll
Johnson said he has been particularly pleased with one area of quarterback Jared Goff's performance so far this training camp.
"We’ve tried to make him uncomfortable," Johnson said. "It’s something we talk about with all the offensive players is get comfortable being uncomfortable and it’s been a challenge to rattle him. We’ve thrown some new concepts at him that we didn’t do in the springtime, and he’s handled it really well."
Johnson and Goff spent time together this offseason tailoring the Lions' new offense to concepts Goff succeeded with during his time with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Lions have featured more play-action passing this summer, and Goff has used camp to get his timing down with new receiver DJ Chark.
"I know Coach talked about just the offense as a whole being able to handle pressure and as the intensity goes up and the heat of the moment of the game goes up, that the heart rate goes down," Johnson said. "I think he kind of is the example for that for the rest of the group because he has done a really nice job just staying steady, and he is focused. I’m really proud of where he’s at after a week-and-a-half.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions' James Mitchell 'different than most rookies'