When the Pittsburgh Steelers saw that veteran Pro Bowl free safety Ryan Clark, an integral part of their defense, was beyond his abilities, the front office let him leave in free agency and brought in Mike Mitchell through free agency, inking him with a $25 million deal over five seasons, averaging $5 million per season.
While that is not exactly breaking the bank, that is a major splash for the Steelers in free agency, which is a strong indication of the level of importance that they placed not only in bringing in Mitchell, but in specifically replacing a piece of the defense such as Clark.
While it is the buck linebacker who traditionally wields the signal-calling duties in Pittsburgh’s defense, the free safety also plays an integral role in that chain of command, and Clark was a vital mouthpiece for the team both on and off the field.
Throughout his tenure with the team, he displayed true leadership and communication qualities that many safely predicted would lead him to a future in coaching or broadcasting that he now enjoys. And the Steelers saw many of the same qualities in Mitchell, in whom others are seeing those traits as well as he fulfills his leadership role in his third season with the team.
ESPN recently produced an article on their website in which they ask each of their team writers to choose one player from the team’s current roster that they believe has the capacity to pursue a coaching career by the time their playing career is done.
Steelers contributing writer Jeremy Fowler picked Mitchell as his choice, having come away impressed with what he has seen from the vocal defensive back this spring while he has been largely sidelined as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery, and injury that impacted his 2015 season.
“Although Mitchell sat out much of offseason workouts because of an injury”, Fowler writes, “he was still on the field for every moment, encouraging and instructing defensive back teammates”. One thing that he cannot be accused of is having a low-key personality, as he routinely barks on the field toward his teammates as well as at his opponents.
Fowler also observed Mitchell on the sidelines away from the drills and how he interacts with his coaches, specifically defensive backs coach Carnell Lake and head coach Mike Tomlin. He notes that Mitchell “often stood alongside defensive backs coach Carnell Lake to view the action” during 11-on-11 drills.
“Mitchell enhances locker room chemistry, and coach Mike Tomlin often turns to him as one of his defensive quarterbacks”, he went on. “The two have a tight relationship. Mitchell is a solid choice for post-NFL coaching”.
If you pay attention during games when they offer sideline shots and the offense is on the field, it’s not at all a rare sight to see Tomlin in Mitchell’s ear, or vice versa. I do think that Mitchell is a more cerebral player than he is sometimes given credit for. After all, Clark’s was a tough act to follow, and he is doing it.