ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Having resumed practicing for the first time since hurting his knee in October, Buffalo Bills linebacker Kawika Mitchell considers himself to be both ahead of and behind schedule.
Mitchell's ahead of schedule because he didn't figure he'd be back on the field for another three weeks before taking part in four of five voluntary minicamp practices this weekend. And yet, the seven-year NFL veteran realizes he and his surgically repaired right knee have plenty of catching up to do given the numerous changes the Bills have made this offseason.
For Mitchell, there's making a good impression upon a new coach in Chan Gailey; learning his role in a new 3-4 defensive scheme the Bills intend to use this season; and being part of a suddenly growing competition for the inside linebacker job.
"The way I see it, I'm basically in the biggest dogfight I've been in my whole career," Mitchell said Sunday, after the Bills completed a six-day stretch of practices. "I've accepted that. It's my situation that I'm in."
Nothing's a given in Buffalo these days, even for a workhorse performer such as Mitchell, who's been a respected leader in his previous two years with the Bills, and a regular starter since 2004 in Kansas City, his second NFL season.
Gailey and first-year general manager Buddy Nix have made clear that no one's job is secure. It's a message that was re-emphasized to the linebacking corps on Saturday, when the team agreed to terms on a two-year contract with sixth-year linebacker Reggie Torbor.
"Nobody's got anything set in concrete at this point," Gailey said, following Torbor's addition. "I think he'll add something to our football team."
With Torbor, who has experience playing both the inside and outside positions, the Bills now have 15 linebackers on their roster making it the second-most competitive position behind defensive back entering training camp.
Mitchell is considered an inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, and is competing with Paul Posluszny for the spot to play alongside Andra Davis, an offseason free-agent addition, who's taken over the play-calling duties. Also in the mix are Torbor, returning players Keith Ellison, Nic Harris and rookie sixth-round draft pick Arthur Moats.
"Right now, we've got six guys in our room" said Mitchell, who's spend his entire career primarily playing in a 4-3 defense. "I don't know if they'll keep three or four, but I know there's going to be some people going."
Selected by the Chiefs in the second round of the 2003 draft out of South Florida, Mitchell is coming off the first significant injury of his NFL career. He was hurt while being bowled over by two Browns blockers during a 6-3 loss to Cleveland in Week 5 last season.
The initial prognosis was for Mitchell to begin practicing during the team's mandatory minicamp in the final week of June, and be ready for the start of training camp, which opens July 28. Holding his thumb and forefinger about a half-inch apart, Mitchell said he's very close to being 100 percent, but is still experiencing some stiffness in his knee.
That didn't stop him from testing it out this weekend.
"This is my comfort zone, man. This is where I live," said the ever-competitive and intense Mitchell, who sheared off his long hair after being hurt in order to mark his fresh start. "Just hitting the bags and stuff, it feels good putting my hands on something."
NOTES: Torbor was absent from practice and has not yet signed his contract. ... Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy was on hand at the end of practice, where he was greeted by players and coaches. ... The Bills open a three-day voluntary minicamp on Tuesday. ... Sunday's practice was closed to all media except for representatives of the team's website, who were allowed to report and film most of the 90-minute session.