On Thursday, we began a series in which we examine the ten current Buffalo Bills players poised to have the biggest impact - positive or negative - on the Bills' success in the 2009 season. We started the discussions off with RB Marshawn Lynch. We're switching over to the defensive side of the ball for the ninth player on the list, starting weak-side linebacker Kawika Mitchell.
Mitchell, entering the second year of a five-year deal he signed last off-season, had a quietly productive first season with the Bills. In tying for the team lead in sacks with four - which, we should note, is not a low total for a 4-3 linebacker - Mitchell became the first Bill not named Aaron Schobel to lead the team in sacks since 2000 (Marcellus Wiley). Kawika added 82 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and three defended passes - and although he developed a reputation as an inconsistent tackler, Mitchell was a steadying presence for a Bills linebacking corps that has undergone a severe makeover over the past two off-seasons.
We know what Mitchell brings to the table from an on-field standpoint. Mitchell's true value, however, lies in his presence in the locker room.
While the Bills were roaring out to a 5-1 start in 2008, Mitchell was one of the team's most productive contributors. He had a key sack in a Week 1 win over Seattle, and followed that up in Week 6 with a fourth quarter interception that sealed a Bills win over San Diego (pictured above). Like the rest of his teammates, Mitchell was not as stellar during the stretch run, when the Bills squandered a division lead in finishing 2-8.
It was Mitchell, however, who expounded upon the team's mindset during the losing streak, claiming mid-season that the Bills needed a "mentality adjustment" if they were going to turn themselves around and re-claim the playoff spot they had relinquished. Mitchell was a lone voice of reason during those chaotic times - and even though he was not any more immune to disappearing from games and throwing together terrible stretches of play than the rest of his teammates, at least Mitchell realized where it all went wrong.
Kawika Mitchell is a champion - literally. He alone of current Bills players has a Super Bowl ring. He's been there. He knows what it takes for a team (and more importantly, an underdog team) to reach the pinnacle of its sport. As a member of perhaps the unlikeliest Super Bowl champions in league history, the 2007 New York Giants, Mitchell brings experience to the table that no other Bill can match. He needs to know it. With young players and somewhat overrated veterans making up the leadership portion of Buffalo's defense, Mitchell needs to take command of this unit.
We know what Mitchell brings to the table when he's on the field. He can make plays. He's not as consistent as you'd like, but he's a smart, tough player that can make plays. That makes up for the mistakes. Mitchell's true importance, however, is what he brings to the table behind the scenes. If Mitchell emerges as the leader of this Bills defense - whether it's in a formal role (such as team captain) or in an informal way - the Bills will be better off for it.