By all accounts thus far, new Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell appears to be everything the team thought he would be through two blocks of OTAs, which is a good thing considering he was their prized free agent acquisition on whom they are counting to be an opening day starter.
Mitchell is a workout warrior off the field, and adds new life on the field that the Steelers were lacking recently from the position.
Earlier this week, Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review observed that “Mike Mitchell instantly makes the Steelers defense better”, noting that “comparing the closing speed of Mitchell and Ryan Clark last year is night and day”.
Ryan Clark, of course, is the man that Mitchell is replacing. The free safety, now in his mid-30s, saw a steady decline during his 2013 campaign, and often exacerbated issues for his cornerbacks to make them look worse than they played. With his contract up, the Steelers wanted to get younger and faster next to Troy Polamalu.
But Polamalu isn’t at OTAs yet, so Mitchell is not yet next to him. As of now, he has been lining up across from Will Allen, who has spent the majority of the past four seasons with the Steelers and has received significant playing time on defense at both free, strong, and dime safety over the past two.
Allen, the veteran, is among those who like what they’ve seen from the newcomer so far. Of Mitchell he said recently, through a Mike Prisuta article:
“I love his attitude. I love playing with him. I love learning with him. He’s a great guy and we have a lot of fun back there. I’m sure Troy is going to love playing with him, as well”.
But he’s not ready to give his final evaluation on Mitchell just yet. No, as with all newcomers, whether rookies or veterans, you need to see them hit first.
When I first came here the question was am I going to hit? When I came here from Tampa, Ryan Clark, Troy, Ike Taylor, Will Gay, James Farrior, James Harrison, all those guys challenged me, am I going to come up and hit somebody? If I wasn’t going to hit anybody then you can’t play on the Steeler defense.
Getting the ball, we need that. But I want him to be an enforcer, as well. That’s how we play the game. We play the game mean, it’s a violent game. It’s the Steeler way and that’s how we have to play every game.
We won’t know that until we get on the pads.
As Allen reflects, the Steelers defense “won Super Bowls before I came here and built a strong legacy on smashing people in the mouth”, which all newcomers must respect. He drank the Kool-Aid and absorbed that message when he first came here, as all who are successful in Pittsburgh have.
There’s no way that you’re not going to get that message and drink that Kool-Aid. Mike has to drink the same Kool-Aid. That’s just what it is; call it an initiation if you will. But it’s just the Steeler way.
Every new guy; it doesn’t matter, nobody gets a pass from that. Even (new defensive assistant) Joey Porter, he lived that, he held that title playing that smashmouth, hard-nosed football, tough-man football. Those guys set the precedent for us and we have to keep adding on to it, keep winning Super Bowls, keep playing physical defense and keep playing violently within the realms of the rules.