One of the most interesting stories of this offseason revolved around Khalif Mitchell, the exceptionally skilled defensive tackle who was a 2011 league all-star in B.C., but fell out of favour with the Lions last season in the wake of a two-game league suspension for an apparent attempt to injure Edmonton's Simeon Rottier, a league fine for a throat-slash gesture (ask Dwight Anderson about how well those go!) and a club-imposed suspension over tweets deemed to be racist. B.C. traded Mitchell to Toronto this offseason, but he initially said he'd refuse to report before accepting the deal. Now, though, he gets the chance to take revenge on his old team, as the Argonauts are in B.C. to face the Lions Thursday night (10 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3). Will that game see the effective version of Mitchell who can be a key part of any team's defence, the emotional version who takes unnecessary penalties and creates controversy, or some hybrid thereof?
There are plenty of reasons to think that Mitchell may be able to be a key contributor rather than a detriment for the Argos Thursday. For one thing, he should be exceptionally motivated to prove the Lions were wrong for letting him go and moving on with "more predictable" players. For another, he knows the guys he's going against on B.C.'s offensive line very well: that knowledge goes both ways, of course, but knowledge can be even more useful on the defensive side of the ball, as they have to try and figure out what the offence is doing. If Mitchell can read the tells of opposing linemen as to how they're going to block, that could give him a substantial edge. Perhaps most importantly, though, Mitchell's comments thus far about his return to Vancouver have been pretty restrained. From The Globe and Mail's David Ebner:
As for the tone and temper his new lineman has brought to the defending Grey Cup champions, Milanovich said: “Truth is, he’s been a pleasure.”
Mitchell himself was in good, relaxed spirits. The 28-year-old has said he feels at peace, having left behind all the recent turmoil, “the trade, and the tweet, and the arm – all those things.”
“There’s no grudges, there’s no hard feelings, I don’t have any negative emotions,” said Mitchell, a character off the field, a self-taught pianist and eccentric thinker.
That sounds like a guy who's ready to do his job on the field and ignore the distractions. It's a lot easier to be calm and conciliatory in a pre-game interview than it is in the heat of a football game, though, especially when there should be plenty of loud B.C. fans at the Lions' home opener, some of whom will undoubtedly be booing and jeering Mitchell. How he responds will say a lot about where he's at. If he's able to play hard and let his game do the talking, he'll demonstrate that he was a valuable acquisition for the Argonauts. If he gets out of control and hurts his team with penalties, though, that might suggest the Lions made the right move to dump him despite his talent.