New Steelers safety Mitchell does more than deliver hits
Mike Mitchell was fined five times last season for crossing the NFL's arbitrary line that separates hard knocks from the dangerous hits that can cause concussions.
By his count, Mitchell's career fines for helmet-to-helmet hits and other such infractions are in double digits, the dollar amount well into five figures. The league has come down on him so frequently, he complained commissioner Roger Goodell is targeting him.
But now that Mitchell is done with his first week of Steelers offseason workouts, the new starting free safety is making this request: He plays in a defense known for its physicality, but he would prefer not be called a big hitter.
It's almost like Ben Roethlisberger requesting to be singled out for his ability to hand off rather than for his throwing.
“I'm not just a hitter — I hate when people say that,” Mitchell said Thursday. “I will come up and hit you if I have to, but I'm all about the football and making the big play that changes the game.”
Mitchell made enough of those plays last season in Carolina's No. 2-ranked defense that the Steelers gave him a $25 million, five-year contract on the first day of free agency. Now, he hopes the Steelers turn him loose the same way the Panthers did last season.
“I'm a playmaker on defense. I want to take the ball away. I can create sacks, fumbles,” Mitchell said. “If they're aggressive with me, which I think they will be in this scheme, I'll be in position to make plays. Any time I'm in a deep zone, I feel like I'm a threat to the quarterback.”
Mitchell's competitiveness showed during the Steelers' three practices this week. It's only football in shorts, but Mitchell is keeping track of how many interceptions are made — and how many deep passes are completed.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown likes that kind of attitude, saying, “He's always highly talkative. He's a great energy booster for our team.”
Mitchell simply doesn't like to be beaten by a receiver, even on a May day on the South Side.
“I think as guys see me make more plays, I'll grow and they'll respect me,” he said. “As I continue to make plays, people will believe in me more.”
Mitchell still hasn't practiced with strong safety Troy Polamalu, who is working out on his own as he often does at this time of the year. But Mitchell has watched plenty of Polamalu game tape.
“He's great at doing a lot of things,” Mitchell said. “It's impressive to see how much he plays linebacker last year — which is crazy to see.”
Dick LeBeau's defense is one of the NFL's most complex, but Mitchell is convinced there's not much that can be thrown at him that he hasn't seen. The Steelers are his third team in three seasons — he played in Oakland from 2009-12 — and Mike Tomlin is his fifth head coach in six seasons.
“Learning a new scheme is nothing too different for me,” he said.
Still, a Panthers defense that blitzes out of a 4-3 scheme, plays a lot of zone coverage and is built around its two defensive ends and middle linebacker doesn't much resemble the Steelers' 3-4.
The results weren't comparable last season, either; the Panthers had 60 sacks and 20 interceptions to the Steelers' 34 sacks and 10 interceptions.
But Mitchell already sees many similarities, even if they aren't schematic ones.
“We're not going to sit back too much. We're going to come after you with four or five or six or seven (pass rushers),” Mitchell said. “Because our four-man rush was so potent (in Carolina), it made everything else (better) and put even more pressure on the quarterbacks.
“When you have aggressive defensive backs, which I am, that want to make plays on the ball, that puts a little bit of fear in quarterbacks.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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