John Mitchell Sees Similarities To Defensive Line Of The 00s

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell has, over the years, helped to put himself in the position of not being dependent upon youth and inexperience when it comes to cobbling together a starting lineup.

The veteran position coach—who is also an assistant head coach—has been in Pittsburgh since 1994, and for the vast majority of that time, he has been able to line up a trio of veterans down in the trenches of the defensive front.

Most recently, of course, the Steelers found some stability with Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, and Casey Hampton. But those three were once the neophytes that Mitchell currently sees in front of him, now that all three are gone:

This reminds me of when I got here in 1994. They had some players here when I got here, Gerald Williams and Joel Steed. When those guys left, hey, we got Aaron Smith. Then we get Casey Hampton, Chris Hoke. Then we got Brett Keisel. In free agency we got Travis Kirschke. We all grew together and then got to be good football players.

And things are starting to look familiar. “I’m excited about what I have to work with”, he said. “I have some talent. It’s my responsibility to get the best out of them. I hope we can grow together over the next four or five years”.

Of course, one of the ways in which Mitchell believes that he gets the best out of his young players is not to play them before he believes they’re ready, and that includes some high standards for basic scheme competence.

The process of attaining that basic competence begins in earnest right about now, and continues through training camp and the preseason. But before the pads come on, there is still work to be done for the “big guys” up front:

With no pads, the things you want to do, especially for a defensive front right now, the big guys, you want them to stay down with a good pad level, use your hands and run to the ball. The best thing we’ve done in this camp with the big guys is staying low and running to the ball. They’ve been running 20, 25 yards downfield every play. I want them to get in football shape because that’s what it takes.

Mitchell likes the early signs that he is getting out of his young group of linemen, such as Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers, Brian Arnfelt, and Nick Williams. But whether or not any of them will help contribute to the next Smith-Hampton-Keisel trio will not be set in stone any time soon.

Remember, even Smith did not start in his first season. It took Keisel several years before he cracked the starting lineup. Mitchell knows that the likelihood of the likes of Tuitt and Arnfelt being up to his standards technically to start on his line this year is slim, and that’s why the Steelers brought in a veteran in Cam Thomas.

As far as Mitchell is concerned, Tuitt is a senior in college this year, and he expects him to play that way this. And Mitchell will play him, when he’s ready, and when there’s a place for him.

But while Tuitt himself might embrace the pressure of comparisons to Smith, whose spot he figures eventually to inherit, his defensive line coach means to protect him from his own expectations. As for now, it’s still a feeling out process:

“I’m excited about guys running to the ball. After that we’re going to find out what they know when sweat is coming down into their eyes when they’re tired and they’ve been in there for eight or nine plays (in training camp). We’ll find out what kind of football players we have at the defensive line”.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • 2443scott

    times are a changing ….some rookies coming in are fighting to get some those starting jobs it because the steelers are drafting rookie starters ..or is it the coaching staff is changing its mind sets…i always thought some the new players should be put in alot sooner then waiting till rookie contracts end ….then when those rookies did get the shot the team was already paying vets big money who no longer were who they were and team was paying for poor play…and those rookies were lost to other teams because it …one rookie they do need to get on the wait list till your ready to play is a qb of the future ….that should be steelers number 1 pick next year so ben can groom him for when ben retirers

  • steeltown

    It’s going to be interesting to see if we carry 6 or 7 DL this year

  • srdan

    I think it goes without saying that this may be the toughest challenge Mitchell has faced. He has always had good veteran talent that allowed him to groom the younger players. He no longer has that cushion, but the talent is there. I think highly of Mitchell and I think that he will prosper. Cam is already one of the top 3/4 DE in the league, and I’m not jumping the gun there. Tuitt has every bit of potential as cam. I look forward to another 10 years of a dominant Dline.

    I always say that our LBs are only as good as our DL. I don’t care if we draft LBs in the first or the fifth, their production is only as good as the guys up front.

  • AndyR34

    Really good insight, srdan!

  • AndyR34

    Rookies didn’t play because they weren’t better than the vets. Rookies playing a lot on the Steelers is only an indication of how poor the talent level is right now. Do they have a good future if the rookies blossom? Possibly.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I will bet anybody on this site (anything you want) that we keep 7.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Very good point. It will be tough challenge for Mitchell. He is out of his comfort zone right now. in a good way.

    The pressure is on him to teach these kids quickly. Just as the pressure is on them to learn quickly. The good news is (as you pointed out) he has the talent there. Time to see how good he is at molding it.

  • steeltown

    I believe they should, especially this year

  • I think our fate at DE is sealed. Cam is a stud, and Tuitt will be brought along. I know teams are playing more sub-package football, but I’m still curious about our future at NT. Steve McLendon has performed admirably at the position, is he the answer though?

  • Leon Mcnair

    Why u think they got McCullers

  • treeher

    One of them being Keisel?

  • Because he’s a mountain. Honestly though he’s a project. I’m rooting for him but I’d be surprised if he ever becomes a starter at NT. He’s way too tall and will have a hard time getting any leverage. I think his ceiling is becoming a rotational guy at best. Like I said I’m rooting for him and he’s athletic for his build. A nose tackle needs to be more stout though and I don’t think he’s a good fit for it.