||HEADLINE NEWS - Features
Thursday - 10/5/2000
Last time Baltimore faced off against Jacksonville the Ravens broke their string of eight consecutive losses to the Jaguars. It was an important game and a huge win for the team. Quarterback Tony Banks had a career best with five touchdown passes and was named NFL Player of the Week. Banks explains, “For us to go down there and beat them (on the road) will be bigger than beating them at home for us.”
In a game this big it often is easy to focus on the players who acquire all the statistics and are in the limelight. However, the Ravens offense would never be able to compete with teams like Jacksonville without a solid foundation at an often underrated position. Center Jeff Mitchell is the man who starts the offense, and he considers himself a leader, at least within the offensive line. Mitchell, who returns to “Gatorland” where he attended the University of Florida and won four consecutive SEC Championships and a national title, has that lingering taste of success and he desires to acquire more titles at the professional level. To accomplish this goal, in particular this year, Jeff knows how important a win on the road at Jacksonville would be, “I hate losing to Jacksonville. I’m tired of it. We’ve lost every time we’ve played them while I’ve been here except for this year. We want to beat them.”
To be a center in the NFL, and especially on a playoff-caliber team, there are two words that best describe the characteristics needed for success, dependability and durability. Jeff Mitchell has proved he possesses these qualities having started 31 out of 32 games in his career. Even when he was plagued with a sore knee prior to the season opener against Pittsburgh, Jeff pressed on for the team in order to be there to start that game. Jeff admits that there is a level of trust that the offensive line and quarterback must have in him. That trust would not exist if he was constantly missing practices or games, or if he was making mistakes in his calls. Mitchell explains, “In a position where you have to know what’s going on, you have to be on top of everything. The center is really a technique-oriented position so you have to get a lot of practice at it. You have a lot of calls to make, too. If you have guys shuffling in and out of the position, it’s tough. I definitely try to be in there every week.” Coach Jim Colletto, Mitchell’s position coach, confirms, “He is really dependable. He makes good calls and he’s really poised in there. He doesn’t get flustered when things go a little haywire. I think everyone has come to rely on him a great deal.”
One person, in particular, who relies on Jeff is Tony Banks. Banks realizes how valuable Mitchell is to his success and the success of the offense. Tony explains, "the center is an extension of the quarterback. He plays one of the most cerebral positions on the field. Besides making my reads, he needs to make calls for protections, which quarterbacks always love. If you have a smart center, you don’t have to worry about a lot of other things. For me to have the confidence that he can make the right calls adds to my comfort level.” Which, as was seen in the last Jacksonville matchup, allowed Tony to have a record day. Colletto adds, “ The center is like the coach on the field for the offense. He does a lot of directional calls for where the pass protection is going to take place and who blocks in the running game. He has got a real job of recognition when he’s got to be bent over the ball and figure everything before it is snapped.” Included in this role is the ability to know at least ten different pass protections inside out, not only for himself, but for everybody else as well.
No doubt the center-quarterback relationship is vital for the offense to gel. Both on and off the field, Tony and Jeff work well together. Coach Colletto explains, “He’s easy to get along with. I think that’s a good quality that Jeff has. He’s a good snapper. It’s easy to get the ball from him.” Jeff confirms his relationship with Banks is good and that they work well together, “Tony demands a lot of respect in the huddle. I think we have a mutual respect for each other.” A big part of that working relationship occurs at the line of scrimmage with the exchange. Jeff explains, “For Tony and I (the exchange) seems to be really smooth.”
As the Ravens travel to Mitchell’s home state to face one of their fiercest opponents, most of the attention will be on the receivers, quarterbacks, running backs, and defensive backs. Jeff Mitchell doesn’t need to be the center of attention in everyone’s eyes, though. He just needs to be the center of attention to the guys that line up to his left, to his right, and behind him.