By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
The sleeper: People ask me for a sleeper, somebody on the Browns’ roster to come out of nowhere and make an unexpected impact, and I say Carlton Mitchell.
“Did I make the right choice?” I said to the towering wide receiver.
“You know what, I truly believe you did,” he responded.
As Pat Shurmur’s first mandatory minicamp kicks off today, nobody is really touting Mitchell as the answer to the team’s dire situation at the receiver position.
Mitchell was a sixth-round pick in 2010. He surprised many by forgoing his senior season at South Florida. The scouting reports said he caught the ball too much with his body and not with his hands. What he had was ideal size (6-3 and 215 pounds) and very good speed (4.42 in the 40 at the NFL combine).
In three years in a bad offense at USF, Mitchell had 105 receptions for 1,648 yards (a 15.7-yard average) and nine touchdowns. He had a baseball and track background. The feeling was a good coaching staff might be able to make Mitchell a player before his rookie contract ran out.
Well, he’s entering his third year of a four-year contract. And the team is begging for a wide receiver to step up.
Broken hand, broken dreams: “Last year, we tried to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do and then he got nicked in training camp,” Shurmur said at a recent OTA practice. “Hopefully, he’ll take advantage of this offseason, stay healthy and continue to flash.”
On Aug. 14, in his second Browns training camp, Mitchell snagged a finger on his left hand on the jersey of a teammate during a special teams drill. The finger broke. Four screws were inserted in surgery.
“It was tough,” Mitchell said. “I missed all of camp, all of preseason, and like first six games. Even after that, I had to wear a big cast. It was tough trying to work back into things. People always wonder why I didn’t play. Imagine going into a job with no resume. Coaches did what they were supposed to do. I missed so much. And nothing’s given in the NFL.”
As bad as the Browns’ receiver situation was, Mitchell could not catch up to the time lost in training camp. Once the season started and attention was turned to game-planning opponents, Mitchell was relegated to “scout” team at practice, lumbering that big cast into routes.
He was active for the final 10 games, but only caught passes in the last two – three in all for 31 yards.
Now is the time: There is no getting around the fact the Browns’ situation at receiver is bleak. The starters in June are Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi. Next in line are Josh Cribbs and Jordan Norwood. The rookie hopefuls are Travis Benjamin, a fourth-round pick from Miami, and Josh Cooper, a slot receiver from Brandon Weeden’s Oklahoma State team who wasn’t even drafted.
Mitchell is the forgotten man, even though his size-and-speed combo is unmatched on the roster.
I asked him again if he could be the surprise player of this season, the receiver who could rescue the position and be the man to snare Weeden’s lightning bolts down the field.
“I think things will work for the better this year, if I stay healthy and keep working,” Mitchell said. “I’m very excited about this season. Things are going pretty well. Obviously, I’m not where I want to be. But I’m getting there. I’m getting positive feedback.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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