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As his third season bows, Mitchell is catching on
Freddie Mitchell streaked down the left sideline Wednesday morning, cut into a seam in the defensive backfield, caught A.J. Feeley's pass and kept on going.
''I see you, 'Hollywood!' I see you, 'Hollywood!''' Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent yelled from the sideline.
Never mind that Mitchell produced his big play against the who-are-those-guys collection of defensive backs fighting for backup spots on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster. It came during the first full-pad workout of the Eagles' training camp at Lehigh University, and maybe it was a sign of more good things for Mitchell in his third NFL season the season outsiders are terming Mitchell's ''make-or-break'' year.
''I don't think it's a 'make-or-break' year,'' Mitchell said. ''That's a real cliché. As long as I stay with the offense and do my job, I'll be fine.''
The Eagles thought they had done just fine when they used the 25th pick of the 2001 NFL Draft to select Mitchell, who had 119 catches for 2,135 yards and 10 touchdowns in 26 games (18 starts) over three years at UCLA.
But something the complexities of the West Coast offense, a lack of full commitment by Mitchell to learn it, or a combination of both got in the way.
Mitchell had just 21 catches as a rookie. Then, after the Eagles felt the need to sign veteran Antonio Freeman as a free agent late last training camp, he had just 12 catches last season.
''It wasn't tough at all,'' Mitchell said of watching Freeman catch 46 passes last season. ''He's a great receiver. He came in here and showed me stuff, and he also pointed out stuff that I was doing right. No one else would have done that.''
Somebody or something apparently got to Mitchell last year and explained the importance of this year to him and his career.
Maybe it was Freeman. Or quarterback Donovan McNabb. Or Eagles coach Andy Reid. Or offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Maybe all of them, plus plenty of criticism in print and on sportstalk radio.
Whatever the impetus, Mitchell appears to have given his career new life by committing himself more seriously to the detail side of being a professional football player.
''I've just stayed in shape and learned the whole playbook, so they can utilize me at more than one position,'' Mitchell said. ''I stayed in Philly, lifted weights. I was learning the whole playbook and doing my work.''
Instead of wondering aloud what took him so long, the Eagles have been quick to defend Mitchell in recent weeks.
McNabb spoke glowingly of Mitchell's offseason workouts last month, then spent a good portion of his first training-camp press conference on Saturday chipping away at the theory that this is Mitchell's ''make-or-break'' year.
Childress added to that defense of Mitchell in his first training-camp press briefing.
''I'm really not looking at it as a 'make or break,''' Childress said. ''Freddie knows what he is charged with.
This is his third year in this thing, and I would expect him to take strides here and move forward, and that's what we're looking for.
''I think Andy is on the record that it takes three years, four years, five years to know it all . UCLA is way different than anything we're doing here, so it takes you a good bit of time to where you're not thinking it, you're playing it.''
Mitchell appeared to be playing it instead of thinking it Wednesday.
It's a situation that a lot of people will be following for the next couple of weeks.
''I prefer eyes on me,'' Mitchell said. ''I enjoy it. But it's a team game.''
In that equation, if Mitchell shows he has game, he can help his team just as the team figured during the 2001 draft.