In a candid moment two days ago, Mike Mitchell conceded he was nervous about playing in his first game as a Raider.
He’d just come off a practice where he’d gotten into a fight with teammate and close friend Louis Murphy, had received a shove from quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, and had the look of someone who was looking forward to hitting somebody wearing a different uniform.
“I’m extremely excited. I’m also extremely nervous,” Mitchell said. “This is the first time to play in a real NFL game, so I’ve got a lot of mixed emotions.”
It’s safe to say that the excitement and anxiety have given way to disappoint. Mitchell won’t play against the Dallas Cowboys Thursday night because of a hamstring injury that just won’t go away and there’s no telling when he’ll be ready to go.
Coach Tom Cable said he wasn’t sure of the severity, but did say, “It is a strain so it’s going to be a little while. How long, we don’t know.”
Mitchell had to cancel his first Pro Day becasue of a hamstring pull and was able to rehabilitate it in 27 days, whcih resulted in a showing for scouts at North Highlands High School which suddenly put him on the radar of several NFL teams, including the Raiders.
The Raiders made Mitchell a controversial second round pick, only to have Mitchell injure his hamstring in one of the few offseason practices he was able to participate in.
The fact that Mitchell spent much of the offseason after his college class graduated in Alameda rehabbing, and then was always the last one out of the locker room at training camp as the training staff painstakingly stretched his hamstring _ only to injure it again _ could mean a lengthy shutdown.
The last thing the Raiders want is to rush him back, have him hurt it again _ this time worse _ and be faced with the dilemma of keeping him on the 53-man roster or putting him on injured reserve, as they were forced to do last year with rookie fourth-round pick Arman Shields.
Special teams duty will entail the kind of full-on sprinting which can be tough on a tender hamstring.
It’s also a setback in terms of getting Mitchell going as a safety. Before the injury, Mitchell acknowedged he wasn’t playing as well as he had hoped against the run or pass.
“We’ve had some live goal line periods where I haven’t made the tackle and they’ve gotten in,” Mitchell said. “In that sense I’ve been kind of disappointed, but I’m doing everything I can to get that corrected.”
On pass defense, the sight of secondary coach Lionel Washington pulling Mitchell aside after a tight end or running back breaks free in the flat has been a familiar sight.
“I would be lying if I had any idea what the NFL is about until I started playing in the NFL. Coach Washington is on me every play, but you know what? I like it,”’ Washington said. “I was just reading the Bible, I actually read up on a verse of the day that said that pride breeds quarrels and that true wisdom is knowing how to take advice.
“Every day, he’s always on me, and sometimes I get frustrated, but I started thinking about that today, because he gets on me about little things. Little things that you wouldn’t even see or pay attention to unless you really knew what was going on. And I appreciate the heck out of it.”
For the immediate future, Mitchell’s learning is going to come in the film room instead of on the field.
More news and notes from the Wednesday walkthrough:
— Other than Mitchell, those who won’t play include WR Javon Walker (knee), T Khalif Barnes (ankle, G Robert Gallery (appendectomy), OL Mark Wilson (back), QB Jeff Garcia (calfh and DL Derrick Gray (knee strain). Jon Alston is questionable with plantar fasciatis.
— Darrius Heyward-Bey will play a lot and might start.
— Kirk Morrison will start at middle linebacker and Ricky Brown at strong side linebacker.
— Chris Morris starts for Gallery ahead of Paul McQuistan at left guard.
— Most starters, including quarterback JaMarcus Russell, will play one quarter and take the rest of the night off. However, at running back, Cable said he plans to play Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, alternating them throughout the first half in a system he may want to use throughout the season.
“I want to start inplementing the plan that we want to use in terms of getting them all involved,” Cable said.