When the Pittsburgh Steelers embarked on their 2017 campaign, they did so with their starting free safety, Mike Mitchell, ailing. He suffered an ankle injury early in training camp and missed the entirety of the preseason, only returning to practice just before the season started.
While he was able to make it back out on the field, the Steelers remained cautious, and they rotated him off the field. In the opener, he played only 44 snaps, with new safety J.J. Wilcox playing 20 snaps, and even Robert Golden seeing a snap.
While Mitchell played nearly every snap the following week, he was already back being rotated in during week three before he left with an injury, Wilcox playing a total of 34 snaps in that game. The former Buccaneers safety started the next game for the Steelers with Mitchell injured.
He suffered another injury in the game leading into the bye week, and it was Golden who came in for him. while he was able to make it back to being a full participant by the end of practice this week, however, I would expect the coaching staff to take a cautious approach with his playing time.
Or at least they should. Especially with Pittsburgh facing a short turnaround after tomorrow’s game, coming back to play host for Thursday Night Football a few days later. Playing two games of football with a bothersome Achilles would seem unwise.
Just ask Richard Sherman of the Seahawks, who just saw his season ended due to a ruptured Achilles that he suffered while playing through an Achilles injury on a Thursday game. Mitchell even talked about Sherman to reporters yesterday, according to Chris Adamski, though he said the coaching staff gave him no indication that he would be limited.
Between Wilcox and Golden, the Steelers have already gotten what is closing in on around 200 snaps played from their backup safeties this year. The bulk of that has admittedly come from Wilcox, logging over 130 snaps, but Golden has nearly 50 snaps himself.
While Wilcox started in place of Mitchell earlier this season, it was Golden who replaced him when he suffered an injury in the team’s last game, and I believe that it was Golden who took the first-team reps in practice on Wednesday before Mitchell returned to work with the first team.
I think that the pair should be used to supplement Mitchell over the course of the next two games, at the very least, for precautionary reasons. As much as many don’t like him, the team is stronger overall with him healthy, and this is something of a preservation tactic.