As far as the Washington Redskins are concerned, Brian Mitchell has more uses than a set of Ginsu knives. And Sunday they hope he can cut up the New Orleans Saints in numerous ways.
"I wouldn't really call it popularity," he said. "Some people went down and I back them up at those positions. I just have to step in and do what I'm capable of doing."
So far, Mitchell has demonstrated he is capable of running back a kickoff for a touchdown (he did that the first time he touched the ball in a preseason game), quarterbacking the team to a touchdown (he did that Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles after Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries were injured) and preventing touchdowns (he has a team-best 17 tackles on special teams).
"I think this rookie season of mine has been one to remember," Mitchell said. "I'll never forget the things that have happened."
This week, because of injuries to running back Gerald Riggs and wide receiver-kick returners Walter Stanley and Joe Howard, Mitchell will get a chance to make some more memories while relieving Ernest Byner at running back and returning punts. This, of course, will be in addition to his usual duties, which include being the emergency holder for kicker Chip Lohmiller.
"When I go home now," he said, "I have to look over a lot more."
The Redskins are happy to have him do it. He was a quarterback at Southwest Louisiana, where he became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 5,000 yards and run for more than 3,000 in a career. By design, but also by luck, the Redskins ended up drafting him as running back.
Mitchell had been invited to an all-star game for players from predominantly black colleges, although Southwest Louisiana isn't one. Because Grambling Coach Eddie Robinson was involved with the game, along with one of his quarterbacks, Mitchell decided it would be prudent to express a willingness to play another position.
During the week before the game, he worked at running back and wide receiver -- all under the watchful eye of Redskins defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas, who had been dispatched to scout the game.
"Being there all week with him, you could see that he was a tremendous athlete," Thomas said. "He had size and strength. He was very quick and he caught the ball very well."
Thomas returned with a glowing report -- and some thoughts of how Mitchell might be able to help him and assistant head coach/defense Richie Petitbon, both of whom played quarterback in college and defensive back in the NFL.
"We had hopes that if we got him and he couldn't play on the offensive side, then there was a possibility he could play cornerback or free safety," Thomas said.
But the Redskins drafted him on the fifth round and found he could play on the offensive side. This came as no surprise to running backs coach Don Breaux, who worked out Mitchell before the draft.
"What you want to do on those trips is go and see is how do you relate to them, how do they seem as individuals and how they catch the ball," Breaux said. "Then you give them things to do, where you're really testing their retention. He was very high in all of those areas. He's a sharp young man, he really is."
That's where special teams coach Wayne Sevier steps in. Mitchell is such a smart player that Sevier has installed him as the punter's personal protector -- the upback, the blocker between the line of scrimmage and the punter who calls the signals on punts and often is the trigger man on fakes. Sevier said it is the first time he ever has had a rookie play the position. But then again, in Sevier's eyes, Mitchell isn't a rookie.
Kickoff coverage is "the one area that he's maybe on pace with most rookies," Sevier said. "In most of the other things he's like a seasoned veteran."
This is quite an accomplishment, considering Mitchell never played special teams until this year. "I played quarterback from eighth grade until last year, and they never let me do anything else," he said.
But he has caught on quickly, and even learned to enjoy special teams play. "The thing that took a lot of getting used to was blocking and going down on kickoffs," he said. "That's a totally different thing than getting under center, getting the ball and running the option.
"But it's a lot of fun. When you think about it, there are not many people who can run up and down the field 50 to 70 yards and then try to tackle somebody or block somebody. And I'm trying to make as many hits as I can. I mean, after running 50 to 60 yards, you want to hit somebody."
Still, Mitchell's favorite moment came last Monday night when he was trying to avoid getting hit.
"It was a dream come true to play quarterback in the NFL," he said, "even if it was only for a short time."