Five days ago, Texas Longhorns junior linebacker Juwan Mitchell entered the NCAA transfer portal and looked like he was on the verge of leaving the Longhorns with even less depth at the linebacker position.
However, entering the transfer portal is not the same as leaving the program and Mitchell was convinced to stay in Austin after reportedly meeting with the coaches. So on Monday, the news broke that Mitchell withdrew his name.
Other than senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger and junior offensive tackle Sam Cosmi returning for the 2020 season, Mitchell’s return is the most significant personnel development so far this offseason — the New Jersey product is the only junior inside linebacker on the roster who was recruited as a scholarship player.
And with sophomore Ayodele Adeoye out for the spring with a Lisfranc injury, the only other two inside linebackers who were recruited as scholarship players are redshirt freshmen David Gbenda and Marcus Tillman, Jr.
Last season, though, Gbenda lost reps at linebacker due to his temporary move to running back and only appeared in four games to preserve his season of eligibility. Tillman played on special teams during the first four games before he suffered a knee injury against Oklahoma State that ended his season and is expected to keep him from participating in spring practice.
Both of the linebacker signees in the 2020 class are summer enrollees, so the installation of Chris Ash’s defense during the spring would be more difficult without Mitchell on the roster.
Texas may still need to find a graduate transfer at the position to build depth and ensure that Ash doesn’t have to play junior Joseph Ossai inside instead of on the edge, where he recorded six tackles for loss and three sacks against Utah in the Alamo Bowl. However, Mitchell staying will also reduce the pressure on former walk-on linebacker Cort Jaquess to emerge as a contributor.
The first step for Mitchell is to repair any lingering issues with his coaches and teammates and start maturing quickly — he was benched for the Alamo Bowl in favor of Jaquess and left the field early following the in over Texas Tech.
Those are important steps to take because there aren’t any guarantees that everything will go smoothly between Mitchell, his coaches, and his teammates over the coming months.
Besides the lack of depth at the position, the coaches put in the effort to keep Mitchell on the Forty Acres because he emerged as a strong blitzer and productive player as a sophomore in racking up 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks despite suffering an elbow energy during the season. Mitchell is also a physical player with strong instincts diagnosing plays against the run.
Former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was looking forward to Mitchell spending time with strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight during the offseason to improve his speed and quickness — Mitchell arrived last summer from junior college and got picked on at times in the passing games, an area where he could improve quickly just by getting faster.
If Mitchell does improve during the offseason and remains on the roster for the 2020 season, he should play a big role and is the favorite to emerge as one of the two starters at inside linebacker.