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James Mitchell’s second year following his ACL tear is crucial, according to the Lions TE Coach

James Mitchell, a sophomore TE, has a crucial year ahead of him in terms of his development, according to Lions TE coach Steve Heiden.

Steve Heiden, the new tight ends coach for the Detroit Lions, has experience healing from cruciate ligament tears. He had to do that just once during his own 11-year NFL career. Even once you return to the field, it’s a laborious process, and you still don’t perform to your full potential.

On Wednesday, Heiden warned reporters, “You really won’t be yourself next year.

Heiden, who was recruited in January to succeed Tanner Engstrand as the tight end coach for the Lions, will now impart some of that knowledge to James Mitchell. Mitchell tore his ACL during his senior year after being chosen in the fifth round the previous year.

The Lions chose to take Mitchell slowly in his rookie season last year. He was a limited participant throughout most of training camp and was inactive for the first three weeks of the season. Though he eventually found his way onto the field, he only surpassed 20 offensive snaps in two games and saw most of his impact on special teams. He wasn’t completely kept off the stats list, however, intercepting all 11 passes thrown at him for 113 yards and a score.

But Heiden sees more potential in the 23-year-old tight end, which he’s ready to unleash.

“There’s a lot of credit for him just playing out there,” Heiden said. “The things you see on the tape: you see the sporting tools, some of the things he can do in terms of movement and we’re going to grow and build on that over the course of this year.”

Mitchell came to Detroit with a reputation for being an offensive weapon with underdeveloped blocking skills. In his last healthy season at Virginia Tech, he had 26 catches for 435 yards and four touchdowns. With TJ Hockenson traded as of last year’s deadline, there’s certainly a chance as a threat for him awaiting on the roster — even if the supporting tight end line-up scored nine touchdowns without Hockenson last year.