When the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves wanting at safety a couple of seasons back, they turned their sights toward free agency and came away with Mike Mitchell, now entering his eighth NFL season, and third with the Steelers.
That first season did not go particularly as well as he hoped, bogged down by multiple torn injuries that affected his play, but he improved significantly in year two, even while he played through injury again, this time to his shoulder, on which he underwent offseason surgery.
Asked how he felt at the start of training camp after sitting out the spring workouts, he was lighthearted during an interview with Steelers Nation Radio. “Look at me”, he quipped, adding, “I look great, I feel better, I’m excited for this year. This is gonna be a big one”.
Asked if he felt that he showed last season that he was among the better safeties in the NFL last year, Mitchell told the SNR reporter that “I feel like anytime I’m healthy I’m one of the best out here”, after briefly considering his answer.
“You might not get the accolades, but let’s look at numbers”, he said. “Let’s look at what other people are saying about you when they play. I go off that. When I’m in the offseason and guys are telling me about how dudes are scared when they’re playing me and stuff like that—that’s what I play for”.
Last season, Mitchell registered two forced fumbles in addition to three interceptions, two of which he plugged in the end zone. He also registered more than his fair share of high-impact hits, fueling his reputation as a big hitter—while also cutting down on missed tackles.
“A lot of the other stuff is politics and a lot of hype goes into it”, he added, “so I don’t really get caught up in that. I just want to come out here and play as hard as I can. Right now this is a great time for us. Training camp is the get better and work hard, work on the team bonding, and get down to the hard work that is winning a championship”.
His comments are measured and thoughtful, and representative of the leader that he has become on this defense, taking ownership of a young secondary full of new faces. “I just expect them to show up and be like us”, he said about the young players. “Be like the older guys, the older Steelers that have been here and learned the way. Practice how we practice, meet how we meet, and just be a Steeler”.
As far as whom he expects to be playing across from, he believes that face will not be so new. “I think right now it’s [Robert Golden]”, he said, “which he’s not new. I kind of chuckle when people say that because I had a couple of starts with him last year. Rob’s in his fifth year, he’s got a lot of experience, and he’s a very talented football player”.
Mitchell and Golden together, along with whatever playing time rookie Sean Davis might see, should make up the most athletic group of safeties the defense has been able to field in perhaps the past half-decade, which fits the profile of where the defense has gravitated toward with their personnel in recent years.