May 29, 2023

O’Leary: Mitchell getting comfortable in Tiger Town

Sometimes not even a four-month-long heads up can prep you for the sight of a player in their new colours.

It was somehow far from surprising and yet also still jarring in a way to see Bo Levi Mitchell in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ white and black uniforms on Saturday. After 10 years in a Calgary Stampeders uniform, complete with a pair of Most Outstanding Player awards, two Grey Cup wins that came with game MVP honours, a combined five All-Star selections (two CFL, three West Division) and years of lighting up opposing defences and letting them know about it along the way, it’ll take some time to get used to Mitchell in Black and Gold, running out onto Tim Hortons Field.

That moment — even if it felt like it lasted just a heartbeat in a preseason game — wasn’t lost on Mitchell on Saturday, when the Ticats’ fans finally welcomed him into his new office.

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“Amazing,” he told reporters on Saturday of that first taste of the new chapter in his career. Mitchell was 3-6 for 63 yards with a touchdown to his former Stamps teammate, Richie Sindani in the Ticats’ 27-22 win over the Toronto Argonauts. “It was awesome just to get to do it with the teammates.”

While Mitchell is settling in and establishing his presence with his new team — he joked that he gave Lawrence Woods III a hard time after his interception on Saturday, saying that a returner with a pick should be off to the end zone — you can see the newness of the situation still around him.

He caught himself describing a hallway in the stadium as being yellowed out, then pointed to Ticats’ staffers and corrected himself to say golded out. It was the normal process of learning a new workplace unfolding in front of cameras and microphones.

“It was awesome,” he said of the hallway and his entrance onto the field.

“Walking through there, walking through the fans, clapping them up, hearing everyone’s excitement for the game. I think you already know that everyone’s excited, but seeing some young faces, some old faces, everything, just being ready for the start of the game is exciting.

“To have this kind of turnout shows exactly what Hamilton is and what this team means to this city.”

As short as that preseason appearance was, it’s likely all that we’ll see of Mitchell until Week 1, when he leads the Ticats into Winnipeg to face the Blue Bombers on June 9.

After getting his time in on the field, Mitchell had a headset on and was in communication with offensive coordinator Tommy Condell on Saturday (The Canadian Press)

“We’re not evaluating Bo,” Ticats head coach and president of football operations Orlondo Steinauer. He liked what he saw in that limited glimpse.

“To be honest, it looked just like practice,” Steinauer said. “It was interesting to see him in his game uniform. The way he was out there, his calmness, his confidence, the way he went about things, it was just like practice.”

Mitchell will use the final week of training camp to delve further into offensive coordinator Tommy Condell’s playbook. He candidly admitted that it’d be Week 6 or 7 of the season before he’ll full feel like he has full command of the playbook.

“It’s a playbook that I know right now but there’s intricacies and things that we’ll build and we’ll move on,” Mitchell said.

“Tommy’s done a good job of less is more. He’s done a hell of a job of implementing things slowly, allowing guys to feel confident in everything we’re doing. At the moment it’s pretty basic. We’re making sure guys feel good about what they’re doing. To me, that’s big. that’s building staples and plays where guys feel confident in what they’re doing.”

Mitchell used his time on the sideline to chat with Condell and examine the offence while Taylor Powell ran the show the rest of the day at quarterback.

“The entire time that Taylor’s playing, I’ve got the headset on, I’m buzzing to him. He talks back to me about it,” Mitchell said of his in-progress relationship with his O.C.

“The room is very open. We have the ability to bounce ideas off of each other, but Tommy’s calm, he’s confident. He’s confident in me and what we do in the offence. He allows the players to play and it’s fun to do.”

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