Steelers' Mitchell enduring growing pains
The Steelers are paying safety Mike Mitchell $25 million over the next five seasons in hopes that he'll help strengthen a subpar run defense. So far, the team's coveted free-agent acquisition has offered a mix bag of good, bad and indifference.
“I like Mike and what he brings to the table,” safety Will Allen said. “There are probably some growing pains with going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, but he has to learn it and understand it.”
Mitchell, who proudly displays in his locker an autograph helmet of his former team, the Carolina Panthers, has had a few jaw-jarring hits. But he's been among the most penalized, including a taunting penalty in the preseason opener against the New York Giants.
“I've played pretty well throughout the preseason,” Mitchell said. “I haven't had very many errors. There always a little bit of adjustment. There are more responsibilities on my shoulders here, but I don't look at (cornerback) Ike (Taylor's) side because I know he's got that under control.”
Still, Mitchell and strong safety Troy Polamalu appear out of sync. Mitchell insists the apparent lack of communication is a matter of perception.
“It's been fine,” said Mitchell, replacing Ryan Clark who paired with Polamalu for eight seasons. “Troy and I are on the same page. I think the media makes a bigger deal out of it.”
However, Mitchell and Polamalu have missed an alarming number of tackles and sometimes are out of position to prevent long runs. The Eagles gutted the defense as five running backs had a least one carry of 15 yards or longer in a humbling 31-21 defeat in Philadelphia last Thursday.
“Everything depends on whether our defense is successful or not,” Polamalu said. “Obviously, our defense didn't do well last week. The truth is in the numbers. There are lots of things we can work on. As safeties in the defense, we have to make sure there are no big plays that pop. We gave up a few big plays (against Philadelphia). It's too many big plays no matter the excuse. It has to be fixed.”
Mitchell remains confident that everything will come together before the Steelers face the Cleveland Browns in the regular-season opener on Sept. 7 at Heinz Field.
“It's a bitter taste in your mouth because you don't want to play like that,” said Mitchell, who had six solo tackles. “It was a great learning experience for us. You don't learn a lot about yourself when you win, but you learn a lot when you lose.”
If that's the case, the Steelers discovered they are still vulnerable against the run. Mitchell insisted the numbers hardly matter during the preseason.
“There's a lot of progress we have to make,” Mitchell said. “The team that wins the Super Bowl isn't the one playing well in the preseason. We have a long way to go. So, being on a good team last year, I know we have a long way to go. (Carolina) wasn't anything close (in the preseason) to the way we finished.
“It's a matter of guys doing their jobs. The coaches have pointed out to us our errors, and now it's up to us to get it done on the grass.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.