One Step To Take: Mike Mitchell

New series we’re kicking off here to get us through the upcoming dog days of the offseason. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.

Mike Mitchell – Be A Bigger Presence As A Box Safety 

Ok, so this one isn’t entirely in Mitchell’s control. But the fact is Mitchell is an excellent player and I’m not going to bore you with a cliche “stay healthy” line, an obvious, and frankly, sort of reckless claim to make.

Mitchell, healthier last year than 2014, made a big jump and even did things like cut down his penalty total, from five in 2014 to a year ago.

He is known for his ability to hit and that makes him a logical thought as a strong safety but the fact is for the past three years, his territory has been the deep middle. The single high, MOF defender playing as much as 20-25 yards back. It’s the role he had in his lone year in Carolina and has carried in his two seasons with Pittsburgh. But part of that has also been out of necessity. In 2014, the Steelers had an aging Troy Polamalu who only worked well in the box, forcing Mitchell into the single high role. It was a similar story last season with Will Allen.

Should Robert Golden become the starter, Mitchell will finally be paired with someone who can reliably do both. That could allow him to play in the box more than just the 58 times he did last season. And almost all of that came during the first six weeks (47 times, including 21 against the Arizona Cardinals, the following week after Allen injured his ankle).

In the few opportunities he had, Mitchell made some positive plays close to the line of scrimmage.

We’ll use the broadcast tape for the best look at this play by Mitchell in the opening game against the New England Patriots. Rotates down to adjust against the motion by Julian Edelman, beating the block to the inside and working hard in his backside pursuit to the back. He makes the stop for a one yard gain on 2nd and 2.

Two weeks later, Mitchell again rolls down into the box. He slants his gap inside the tight end, forcing the back wide and down the line. That’s critical for run defense. The longer you can force the runner laterally, the more time you have for help to converge. Lawrence Timmons scrapes over the top with Antwon Blake doing a nice job as the force defender, funneling the back inside to Timmons.

And one last look from a couple weeks later against the Arizona Cardinals. Mitchell really in a true box role here, rolled down into the boundary against Bruce Arians’ 10 personnel. Again, he plays his run fill well, taking on the combo block by the right tackle, turning his hips and setting the edge, and keeping the back inside. It forces the runner into the B gap where Sean Spence fills and makes the tackle. Stephon Tuitt also does a nice job of getting some penetration and keeping the runner wide.

Mitchell will still primarily play his single high role this season but 2016 should see him in the box more than ever before. And that should add another element to his game. One I expect him to do well with.

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