Steelers' safety Mitchell awaits first test
Mike Mitchell has a resume that reflects that of an NFL vagabond. The Steelers' free safety is playing for his third team in three years.
Still, he feels settled in with the Steelers. In inking a five-year contract, he opted to drop anchor in Pittsburgh where he's expected to team with strong safety Troy Polamalu to help strengthen a defense that was often humbled last season.
The Steelers could have given the job to one of their young safeties — Shamarko Thomas or Robert Golden — or veteran Will Allen. Instead, they filtered through a thin crop of available free agents to lure Mitchell from the Carolina Panthers.
“It was tough leaving Carolina, but I had to make a business decision for my family,” said Mitchell, who expects to be in the lineup when the Steelers open the exhibition season Saturday at the New York Giants.
“I don't hold it against Carolina, and I wish them the best. They gave me an opportunity to come there to be a starter and go to the playoffs for the first time in my career, but my heart is in Pittsburgh.”
Mitchell started 14 games with the Panthers in 2013 after getting only nine starts in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him in the second round with the 47th overall pick in 2009. The Steelers are banking that he has come of age.
“It's new territory for Mike, but everyone respects a good football player,” cornerback William Gay said. “We've all got to come together on the field, and that builds the chemistry — no matter who's on the field.”
Already, the heat is on Mitchell to deliver. And he's had to play catch-up during training camp after missing the first week of practice with a groin injury.
“I'm glad I took the time to come here in the offseason,” Mitchell said. “I knew it was going to be a big year for me because I knew it was going to be a little different defense.”
Mitchell seemingly has transitioned seamlessly from Carolina's rigid 4-3 defense to Dick LeBeau's sometimes-complex 3-4 that has been slightly altered to address the ever-evolving, sophisticated passing games.
“I took a lot of reps during OTAs (organized team activities), so I didn't miss a day,” Mitchell said. “The only thing I'm working on is getting my legs under me and continuing to work with Troy.
“I had the playbook down, so I'm not making many errors. It's been a good transition for me from Carolina to here.”
At times, Polamalu and Mitchell haven't been on the same page this week. There have been blown assignments, but a demonstrative Mitchell talks his way through it.
“Mike is smart as heck, and he knows what he's doing,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “We want to see if he's consistent in the game, but we all are going to be put in some tough situations. All that matters is how he handles his business on the field.”
Now, he's ready for the on-the-job training. And a chance to prove the Steelers' $25 million investment was money well spent.
“I'm looking forward to hitting somebody in live action,” Mitchell said. “I know Coach (LeBeau) is going to keep an eye on me. I don't know how many plays I'm going to get out there, but it's great to test ourselves against another team. We're getting tired of going against the offense.”
Mitchell, too, is exhausted chasing after wide receiver Antonio Brown.
“Antonio needs to stop running out of bounds if he's going to talk trash,” Mitchell said jokingly. “We're all ready to play football.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.