One of the few negatives from this offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers is that, up until yesterday, we really didn’t have a good opportunity to hear from defensive line coach John Mitchell, who is always one of the greatest interviews on the team. Not only his depth of knowledge impressive, his communication skills and passion are routinely a joy to listen to for a football fan.
He sat down recently with Missi Matthews for an interview, parts of which were already covered, but at the top of the discussion, Matthews asked the veteran coach to give a rundown of where he believes his group is right now during the waning days of OTAs. “I’m really happy [with] where they are”, he began before breaking things down further.
He started with the elder statesman, Cameron Heyward, who is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. “Cam played eight games last year, maybe nine, got hurt, but here’s a guy who worked really hard during the offseason”, he said. “If we had to play today he would be ready to play”.
Regarding his primary running mate, Stephon Tuitt, Mitchell believes that he “had a great season”. Mitchell talked about his youth, reminding that “he came out early” in the draft, so in his view “this is going to be his third year in the league”. But regardless, he sees in the former second-round pick a player who has “gotten better and better every year. Here’s a guy who wants to be a good football player, and he will do whatever it takes”.
He had some interesting things to say about last year’s rookie lineman as well, third-round defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. His comments were largely positive with a hint of negative. “He started last year, he’s learning the defense, he’s better”, Mitchell said.
But he also included that “he understands that he’s got to be in a little bit better shape than what he was from last year”, which obviously implies that he wasn’t satisfied with the small-school product’s conditioning level in his rookie season., Yet he concluded that he is “really happy” with where he is now.
The one he gave the highest praise to was third-year L.T. Walton. “When Cam got hurt, he stepped in and played extremely well”, he said of the former sixth-round pick. Yet of the other former sixth-rounder, Daniel McCullers, Mitchell warned that “it’s time for him to make a move”, lest “you’re moving somewhere else”.
It’s somewhat unfortunate that he did not get around to talking about Johnny Maxey, who was on the roster for much of last season after Heyward’s injury and logged a decent number of snaps at the end of the regular season.
There was no comment, of course, on free agent signing Tyson Alualu, who has been sidelined during team drills due to a calf injury he suffered while working out in the offseason. The veteran believes he should return by minicamp.