There may not be a more honest coach this side of the Mississippi than John Mitchell. So when he talks, the few times he does, he’s well worth the listen.
Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley caught up with Mitchell recently and they ran through the bulk of the defensive line. The most interesting comments centered around the most unknown players – third round draft pick Javon Hargrave and free agent Ricardo Mathews.
You can sum Mitchell’s stance on Hargrave in a couple words. Strong mentally, not there yet physically.
“Right now I’m really pleased with where he is in the mental aspect,” he told Varley. “Physically, he’s not even close, but I’m hoping by the time we come to training camp he knows what it takes to be in great physical condition and can run after the ball play after play, down after down, and be successful.”
Mitchell noted that Hargrave still has to learn “how to run to the ball,” a requirement for the long-time coach. But Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt’s incredible work ethics should serve as all the guidance Hargrave needs. If that doesn’t get his feet moving, nothing will.
It’s hard to tell emotion by reading just the text but Mitchell sounded genuinely surprised and impressed with Mathews, signed away from the San Diego Chargers in the offseason.
“I didn’t know a lot about him and went and watched him on tape. He’s a guy that once he learns what to do, he has the ability…I’m really excited about him. I want to go to camp with pads on and see if his personality matches up with that I saw on tape.”
It will be interesting to determine exactly where Mathews is being lined up and how he’s being used in this defense. As we’ve written, he was used as an interior pass rusher most of the time last season. In Pittsburgh, he’ll be asked to do some of that, but definitely also work as a base end. How he handles that is key. He’ll have to show he is physical and strong enough to anchor and two-gap when needed.
Defensive line depth is critical in 2016 and something the team severely lacked last year. It was something even Mike Tomlin openly acknowledged, a rare moment of honest with him in front of the media, and something the team has made a clear effort to address with these two additions and the hopeful development of L.T. Walton.