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pakowitz 05-11-2003 01:21 PM

Mitchell has good shot to stick with Jaguars

Tight end finds a good situation

Sunday May 11, 2003

Jeff Duncan

Don't look now, but one of the great comeback stories in the NFL is being written in Jacksonville, Fla.

Johnny Mitchell is a Jacksonville Jaguar.

You remember Mitchell, the hard-luck tight end who failed in a pair of comeback attempts with the Saints the past two falls. The enigmatic former No. 1 draft pick who walked away from football twice in the 1990s with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.

He's back.

He hasn't played in a regular-season game in nearly seven years and hasn't caught a touchdown pass in eight years.

After being released by the Saints the past two years, he's had doors slammed in his face in Washington, Houston and St. Louis.

His agent, Jason Brodie, has been hung up on and dissed by nearly every GM and personnel director in the league.

Mitchell has been told to retire, to move back to Brazil and start a new life with wife Eliana and their three children, to focus his attention on 6-year-old daughter Gabriela, who has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome and weighs less than 30 pounds.

Undaunted, Mitchell continued to chase his dream.

He's back. This time he plans to stay awhile.

"It's a blessing," Mitchell said. "It's a fresh start with a brand-new coaching staff. I couldn't have asked for a better situation -- for my family or for me personally."

Indeed, Mitchell couldn't have picked a better place to land than Jacksonville.

Incumbent starter Kyle Brady is mired in an ugly contract dispute with the club and could be released after June 1. The other tight ends on the roster are Chris Luzar, a second-year player, and rookie George Wrighster.

Moreover, Jacksonville is not far from his second home in Fort Lauderdale, so moving the family up I-95 did not require much work.

Jaguars director of player personnel James Harris is an old ally of Mitchell. Harris was the assistant general manager with the Jets during most of Mitchell's four-year career in New York.

New tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts can relate to Mitchell's bid for a second chance. Roberts was infamous for being busted in 1996 at a Dallas motel with receiver Michael Irvin and some topless dancers.

The Jaguars' offense is an almost identical version of the West Coast scheme Mitchell learned in New Orleans.

"I'm excited," said Mitchell, 32. "I'm thankful for the opportunity New Orleans gave me. I wish it could have worked out there. But this situation is even better for me."

Finally, Mitchell's patience and persistence appear to have paid off. For now, he has found a home, ironically, not far from St. Augustine, where the Fountain of Youth flows only a few miles away.

"It just goes to show that if you have faith and believe in yourself and what you're doing anything is possible," Mitchell said. "You can't let people tell you when to hang it up. I believe I have a future in Jacksonville. I think there's a lot more running left in these legs."

AROUND THE NFL: Bengals rookie QB Carson Palmer has been immediately inserted ahead of former top pick Akili Smith as the backup behind Jon Kitna. Second-round pick Eric Steinbach has been named as the starting left guard. . . . The waiting list for season tickets to Tampa Bay Buccaneers games this season has reached 80,000. That's the third-longest list in the NFL, trailing Green Bay and Washington. . . .

The Bills plan to place No. 1 pick running back Willis McGahee on the physically unable to perform list to open training camp. Under that scenario, he would be eligible to play in Week 10 -- if they think he's ready. He's most likely bound for a season of rehab. . . . The Bears love second-round pick Charles Tillman of Louisiana-Lafayette. They think he will step right into the nickel back position ahead of last year's third-round cornerback, Roosevelt Williams. . . .

The Packers didn't draft a quarterback last month because of their faith in No. 3 man Craig Nall, a former LSU and Northwestern State standout. The top four quarterbacks on the Packers' draft board -- Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller and Rex Grossman -- were all selected before Green Bay's No. 29 spot in the first round. Since Green Bay rated Nall higher than mid-round picks Dave Ragone of Louisville and Chris Simms of Texas, the Packers passed on taking a quarterback. "I think Craig plays a little faster (than Ragone or Simms), gets the ball out and has a little better feet," Packers offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. . . .

Former Saints defensive tackle Norman Hand was issued jersey No. 96 at the Seahawks' weekend minicamp. That number belonged to Cortez Kennedy, the most dominant defensive player and most decorated performer in franchise history. Hand reported at 326 pounds.


-- "I'm ready for them to come out with the Tillman jerseys in the mall. I am ready to be financially secure for a while. I want to stay rich. I don't want to be rich for two or three years. I want to be rich for 60 years. I want to be rich like Bill Gates." -- Bears rookie cornerback Charles Tillman of UL-Lafayette.

-- "Norman is going to be a major part of us stopping the inside running game. Any time you come from a situation like he did, where the Saints had pretty much given up on him, you want to go somewhere else and show them that they were wrong. I'm sure that is his mentality, to show the Saints they were wrong." -- Seahawks defensive line coach Dwaine Board.

-- "I haven't been blessed to play on stellar teams. I've always played with fixer-uppers, and that's cool with me. You have to have that thing inside your heart, inside your mind, that commitment, that dedication. Listen, I'm a 6-foot brother, a sixth-round draft pick from East Carolina. The odds of me making it to this point of my career are maybe 1 in 18 million, maybe 1 in a trillion. But I'm still here. I didn't disappear. I've stood the test of time." -- Cardinals quarterback Jeff Blake.

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