Whatever happened to Kawika Mitchell?
That's a question that even the Buffalo Bills' veteran linebacker has been asking himself lately as he's been working with the second unit despite having nearly 100 games of NFL experience.
"It's not something I want to be doing," said Mitchell, who was a full-time starter for four-plus seasons until he suffered a knee injury five games into the 2009 season.
"But I realize with a new coaching staff and that I'm coming off an injury and the timing of the situation that I have to prove myself. If I have to do that, then I'm willing to do it."
The goal is to start alongside Paul Posluszny at inside linebacker in the Bills' new 3-4 alignment, and right now Mitchell is working behind Andra Davis, who played for Denver in '09. The signing of Davis, a 250-pound 3-4 veteran, gives the Bills' depth, flexibility and prototypes on the inside.
With his size and versatility, the 6-foot-1, 253-pound Mitchell can thrive in the 3-4 so he can't be considered a football afterthought. But can he return to his pre-injury form?
Mitchell tore two-thirds of his right quadriceps muscle when he was injured last season. Doctors surgically repaired the injury in October.
Missing most of the season was burdensome for Mitchell, who had played every game over the previous four years and had missed only four games combined in his first six seasons.
"It was my first time ever being injured in my career," Mitchell said. "Dealing with something like this you have to sit around and let it heal. It was a learning experience to say the least."
Mitchell was one of an NFL-high 20 Bills placed on injured reserve in 2009. During the time off, Mitchell said he gained more appreciation for the game.
"I felt I had a lot of that already because I was doing the little things just to stay healthy," he said. "It got me adjusted to feeling like I was almost retired already. I was with my kids and with my family and I was trying to find things to keep me occupied so I wasn't going crazy at home."
Mitchell, who has an offseason home in Atlanta, spent more time with his son, Lewai, and daughter, Eliza.
"That was the best thing about the injury, that I got to spend a great deal of time with them," he said. "I couldn't play with them like I wanted but I was there talking to them and reading to them."
The Bills OTAs and minicamps are a dress rehearsal of sorts for Mitchell and his knee.
"I'm probably at 96.73 percent," said Mitchell, laughing. "The last test will be putting the pads on and see how it holds up against the hitting but so far the knee feels good and I haven't been held back very much at all. It's been going well and so far I feel like I'm ahead of schedule."
Mitchell said he should be at 100 percent by training camp.
"I feel if I'm doing what I'm suppose to do and play like the player I am, they have to get me on the field somehow," Mitchell said. "I'm not mad at the situation and I definitely understand it, but I'm definitely motivated because I don't feel like I'm at the point in my career where I'm ready to be [a backup]. It motivates me to get to where I need to be."