When it comes to the defense improving, the Pittsburgh Steelers have made it clear that they understand it will require the influx of new talent. Just over the past four seasons, they have brought in nine players on defense on the first two days of the draft. Six of them are already starting, and least one more could follow suit this year.
While it is obvious that improvement will come from the influx of additional talent, it is equally important that the young players be brought along appropriately, under the proper supervision of those who have already been there, and that is a role that safety Mike Mitchell is embracing.
“It’s up to guys like me, Will[iam] Gay, James [Harrison], Cam[eron] Heyward, the leaders of the defense, to really get them up to speed and let them know how we play ball”, Mitchell said after a recent practice, according to the team’s website.
We have already written a number of times this past offseason about how much last year’s rookies, particularly first-round cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis, credited Mitchell for helping them grow into the team and into their roles on the defense during their rookie season. While he is continuing to bring them along, he has some new pupils as well.
“A lot of young guys, man, that’s kind of been the swing”, the veteran safety said. “We’ve been getting younger every year, but they’re good, young guys and that’s always important”. The Steelers added a pair of outside linebackers in T.J. Watt and Keion Adams in the first and seventh rounds and cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen in the third and fifth.
“T.J. was out there with the ones, but he doesn’t say a whole lot, which is a good thing for a young guy”, Mitchell said. “I know Cam and Brian a little bit better because they’re in my room and I’m a little bit more hands-on with them. But I think they’re all good, humble, young guys, which is what you want”.
He described this year’s rookie defenders as “the type of guys you want to be trying to coach up because they’re willing to learn, they don’t have an ego”. While it’s still quite early, I think what little we have seen and heard directly from them would seem to corroborate that point.
“I’m trying to lead by example”, he said of his role with the next generation of defenders. “Part of that is staying out after practice, getting extra work every day, working on our craft”. It is important for the established veterans on the team to set a high bar and the right tone for the younger players to follow.
Why is this so important for Mitchell? It’s quite simple, and obvious, really. “The goal here is to win a championship”. The Steelers have gotten a game closer to the title game in each of the past three seasons. They want this year—and every year—to be the one in which they reach, and win, that final game.