When it comes to the secondary, one issue that I have been stressing on a number of occasions this offseason is the simple fact that, in great contrast to the past half-decade or so, the Pittsburgh Steelers are actually projected to have a stable lineup, with the starting four that will open the season being the same that closed the previous campaign.
That includes the back-end safety tandem of ninth-year veteran Mike Mitchell, a free agent signing entering his fourth year with the Steelers, and second-year Sean Davis, whom the team drafted in the second round in 2016. The young defensive back worked his way into the starting lineup early in the second half of the season.
Part of the reason that that was possible to occur is because he and Mitchell were able to develop a rapport, which I would expect really began in earnest during the Steelers’ bye week. Davis spent the early portion of his rookie season, and much of the offseason leading up to the games that count, actually playing slot corner, so he wasn’t working with Mitchell directly.
But Davis was knocked out of the slot after he suffered a torn labrum in the third game of the season, which gave the coaches an excuse to make Artie Burns the nickel corner and kick William Gay inside in a prelude to the former taking over the job in Week Nine.
That was the first game following the bye week, and it was the first game in which the Steelers began rotating Davis with Robert Golden, who entered the year as the starting strong safety. It took two games of rotating before the rookie displaced the veteran, no doubt after he demonstrated a synchronicity with Mitchell.
“It just happened”, the veteran said of the two safeties ‘clicking’ during the season, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “At some point last year it happened, and we were clicking. I trust him, he trusts me and we’re rolling”.
When it comes to a team sport, the idea of ‘clicking’ with a teammate, however, often involves building a relationship with that person beyond the field, and the two safeties have done that as well. Mitchell called Davis “solid”, saying that the two “do stuff off the field all the time”, including watching film and even traveling.
We have beaten the drum a number of times this offseason about how the veteran safety has been instrumental in bringing along the young defensive backs that the Steelers have brought in, and how he helps Burns and Davis transition into the starting lineup during their first seasons, which is a rare feat.
It goes without saying that it takes some natural and learned ability on their part to be able to do that, but it’s also about having a working relationship with, you know, the people you work with. This young-except-for-Mitchell secondary seems to have no issue in that respect.