Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Were you as excited as me when you saw the Pittsburgh Steelers name show up on the first day of free agency, and it wasn’t a young player whose rookie contract was expiring and taking their talents away from the Steel City? Or it wasn’t a former Steeler who was signed back to be a backup to the aging veterans starting? No, the Steelers were on the opposite end of how things usually go, as they actually signed a young and up-and-coming player and locked him up to be part of the plans for the future.
The Steelers signed Mike Mitchell, a Free Safety who played for the Carolina Panthers last season, one of the best defenses in the game. Although Mitchell had a very unproductive first couple of seasons with the Raiders, he broke out last year, recording 4 sacks and 4 interceptions. Mitchell is a ball hawk, and is great in pass coverage, but his run support isn’t as good. The first thing you have to learn while playing under Lebeau is to tackle. Knowing Carnell Lake is one of the best defensive backs coach in the game, Im sure that won’t be too big of a problem to fix, especially if Polamalu plays more of the run support safety up in the box and Mitchell plays more pass coverage.
With this move, the Steelers are certainly preparing to move on from the aging veterans like Ryan Clark, and Troy Polamalu, and Ike Taylor. Ryan Clark will not be back with the team, Ike Taylor has one more season with the team, which will be his last, and don’t be surprised if this is Polamalu’s last season as well. The Steelers have replacements for all of them. The only thing missing is a second cornerback to start opposite Cortez Allen, which I have said all offseason will be found in the first round of the draft.
The future of the secondary should look like Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas at the safety positions while Cortez Allen and a first round draft pick fill out cornerback spots. If you don’t think the Steelers know what they’re doing, then you don’t deserve to be reading this right now. The Steelers drafted Cortez Allen to start opposite Ike Taylor (either him or Curtis Brown, and Curtis Brown is done). He was drafted when William Gay was on the team before he left for Arizona. Gay left and Lewis took over, and really no one expected him to breakout like he did. So the plan the entire time was for Cortez to take over in two years, when Gay and Lewis left. Shamarko Thomas was drafted in 2013. He played his rookie year with valuable playing time, and will play even more next year, probably behind Mike Mitchell. Polamalu just signed a 2 year extension, but with Thomas waiting, this could be Polamalu’s last season. Shamarko would take over after having 2 years in the system. Ryan Clark leaves, and they don’t have a young player ready to take over the free safety spot, so they get a young free safety in free agency and lock him up. If they draft a cornerback in the first round this year, he will play behind both Taylor and Cortez Allen, then take over when Ike Taylor leaves in one year. Even though we didn’t know, the Steelers had the secondary all under control. All they have to do is go draft a corner in the first.
The Steelers are consistently good because they plan for the future before their veterans leave. Once the veterans leave, they have a young guy with some experience take over and then eventually have a defense playing together as a unit for several seasons. Then when they all start to age, that’s when the rotation starts all over again. The Steelers are on the verge of having that next defensive unit that stays intact for several seasons, which is when they will make several more serious runs for the Lombardi Trophy.
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