For the past couple weeks Mitchell’s been practicing with a pad strapped to his chest designed to force him to catch passes with his hands, not cradle the ball to his body.
“You’ve really got to think about, you can’t let (the football) come to your chest,” said Mitchell, who struggled at first to keep the ball from hitting the pad. “It happened to me the first couple times and it just bounced right off.”
Coaches prefer receivers to catch with their hands as opposed to their bodies whenever possible because the football has a tendency to bound off shoulder pads, causing incompletions.
Catching passes in that manner is not a process that comes naturally to Mitchell.
“I seem to be more comfortable letting it come to my body, and that is not always a good thing – especially in traffic,” Mitchell said.
For incentive to make the change, Mitchell can look to top NFL receivers like Odell Beckham and Mohamed Sanu.
“The best wide receivers catch fully extended,” Mitchell noted.
Still, when coaches approached him about wearing the pad, Mitchell wasn’t overly eager to make the change. Altering a technique – one utilized for most, if not all, of a player’s career – is most easily accomplished during spring practices or fall camp, not the final weeks of a regular season with the team battling for a conference title.
He figured, however, that by asking him to wear the pad in practice coaches had his best interest at heart.
“That’s something I’ve known I had to work on, but at this level, even at practice, working on things that you’re not really good at, you’re going to have to fail a couple times over and over again,” Mitchell said. “I feel more comfortable just letting it come to my body and catching it in practice rather than having to go through that failure, but you’ve got to go through it at some point.”
Mitchell’s 33 receptions are second most among FAU wide receivers, trailing slot receiver DeAngelo Antoine, whose 54-catch total is skewed because the frequent jet sweeps run by the Owls – essentially an end-around where the quarterback flips the ball forward a foot or two to a receiver – count as receptions.
Once a body catcher, too, Antonie understands Mitchell’s internal battle.
“Everything takes practice,” Antoine said. “It will take a little bit. But once you get it, you’ve got it.”
Lane Kiffin and the Owls were forced to employ Antione more than they would have hoped in Saturday’s victory at Texas-San Antoino. With second string slot receiver Willie Wright not making the trip because of an undisclosed injury and third stringer Dante Cousart removed from the game in the first half after suffering a hit to the head while attempting to field a punt, the Owls would have been forced to play walk-on sophomore Jordan Brooks-Wess, an SMU transfer, in the slot to give Antoine a break.
Without two of their slot receivers, FAU opted for more two-tight end sets, leading to Harrison Bryant catching 10 passes for 187 yards.
Bryant, named Monday one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, presented to the nation’s best tight end, leads all Owls in receptions with 58.
Antoine says that even with his usual backups being unavailable, he didn’t feel added pressure to perform because the Owls still had Bryant, who wears No. 40, making plays.
“I didn’t think so because we’ve still got 40 – that’s a big boy,” Antoine said. “We’ve still got 40 and 40 was out there eating.”