Huskers' Mitchell hopes to stand tall in fall

The NFL's affinity for bigger, longer cornerbacks might be a recent trend, but the size debate is nothing new for players who lack it, such as Nebraska's Josh Mitchell.

"People are always going to question my size," Mitchell told ESPN.com "I don't think its so much for me to say anything about it as much as it is to show. I just try to go out there and show that the size doesn't affect my game."

He showed a lot in his most recent performance, against Georgia in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Mitchell had his best game as a Husker, recording an interception and a fumble recovery, both in Bulldogs territory. Both takeaways led to Nebraska touchdowns in a 24-19 victory.

Those in Husker Country hope the bowl victory springboards a team striving to break through the four-loss ceiling and capture a Big Ten championship. Mitchell sees the game as a catalyst.

"That was really important for me," he said. "It set me up for the next season. Coming off that game, I feel like my confidence was at an all-time high."

No kidding. Here's what Mitchell tweeted three weeks after the game:

Mitchell has never struggled to express himself -- "I talk a lot," he said -- but chattiness and confidence are different things. He didn't always have the latter, at least when the lights shined brightest.

The Corona, Calif., native started eight games in 2012 but recorded only one interception, against FCS Idaho State. Before the bowl breakout, Mitchell wasn't involved in a takeaway last season. Nebraska's defense struggled with them, recording just 18, second-fewest in the Big Ten and tied for 95th nationally.

Boosting the takeaway total is a chief goal for the Blackshirts this coming season.

"We have a faster, more explosive group," Mitchell said. "I feel like if we get more guys flying around, we'll create more turnovers. That's one of my goals. I don't have too many in my career, and I think that's just from playing nervous.

"If I can play with more confidence, I can make more plays."

After playing alongside All-Big Ten corners such as Alfonzo Dennard and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Mitchell wants to be Nebraska's top cover man this season, matching up against opponents' best receivers. He has connected well with new secondary coach Charlton Warren and spent much of the spring working on press technique, a strength for any elite corner.

He also is taking a greater leadership role in the secondary alongside safety Corey Cooper, a fellow senior.

"Very instinctive, plays the ball very well," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said of Mitchell. "He's a good football player and a guy I think is going to have a big senior year for us. Love the way he competes.

"He brings great enthusiasm to the field and really adds a lot to our defense."

Pelini notes that Mitchell is getting bigger this offseason. But the two-time academic All-Big Ten selection is smart and realistic about his limits.

He would like to play his final season between 170-175 pounds.

"Of course I want to become bigger and stronger," he said. "I just don't want to get to the point where that’s where all my focus is and I start becoming stiff and losing speed. I rely on speed and footwork.

"I don't have a huge frame, so I don't want to push it too far."

Mitchell's size always might be the first thing people notice about him. If his senior season at Nebraska goes as planned, it won't be the only thing.