The Steelers strong safety Mike Mitchell deserves some props after following an inconsistent first year with a great second season
Don’t call it a come back. He’s been here for two years. After a frustrating first season marred by missed tackles and blown coverages we find out he had an injured groin the whole season that eventually required surgery. Having recovered he’s having a very good second season in Pittsburgh. With all the articles out there that evidence the frustration of fans last year it’s time for one more pointing out this years success.
Let’s rewind some more. The focus on Mike Mitchell is likely due to a couple factors. Sure, one is his tendency to celebrate every play, which he’s been doing less of. But the one I’m talking about is he was a free agent. He was drafted by the Raiders in the second round in 2009. He had good size and speed but just didn’t get a lot of playing time with the Raiders.
He was picked up by the Panthers in 2013 though and started 14 games on the 2nd ranked defense in the NFL, getting 66 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. So the Steelers had big expectations for Mike Mitchell. And when they signed him to a 5 year, 25 million dollar contract in 2014 Steelers fans took on big expectations too.
It was the biggest free agency move the Steelers had made since signing James Farrior who turned out to be an All-Pro caliber player. So eyes were on Mitchell. But he had a rough first year.
His first season in the black and gold was full of missed tackles and ill-timed celebrations and messed up coverages. There were a number of factors. One was that due to injury and scheduling he really didn’t get a chance to get used to playing with Polamalu before the season. Another was the groin. But some of it has to fall on Mitchell himself.
Fast forward to last week and the Steelers are down 27-10 at half time against the Broncos. Per NFL.com’s Sound FX, Tomlin pulled aside William Gay, Will Allen, and Mike Mitchell, presumably therefore the leaders of the secondary, “We’re not going to abandon the plan. You all just lead the charge. Keep everybody cool. Let’s do a great job of communicating til we settle the waters.”
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To which Mitchell replied, “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
Later Tomlin tells him to not blink, saying, “You blink I’ll cut your eyelids off. Don’t blink.”
To which Mitchell replied, “I got you.”
After the Steelers had made their comeback and the game was closing out Tomlin said to Mitchell, eyelids still intact, “Hey, I appreciate you not blinking. You’re growing man. You’re growning.”
Mitchell answered, “I’m trying.”
If Sound FX is to be believed Tomlin and Mitchell are in communication throughout the game. This is no surprise as the cornerbacks are constantly in flux and the other safety spot is held by a someone new on a regular basis, be it Will Allen, Robert Golden, or Sharmarko Thomas, whether due to injury or poor play.
This confidence the Steelers have in Mitchell, this year and even through his difficult first season, has paid off pretty well for them. Mitchell has, with 2 games still left to play, gotten 70 tackles, 8 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. He leads the team in interceptions and is third in tackles, but will likely finish second in that category. He’s also tied for lead in forced fumbles.
Mitchell has maintained the straight line speed and aggressiveness but has matured into a leader on the defense. Where last year many were calling his signing a mistake now it looks like a smart move. His position is really the only one in the secondary any fan can say with confidence is not in need of improvement or at least a new long-term plan.
Mike Mitchell also has a very Steeler like method of playing. The guy is a hard hitter. He does not mind smashing a wide out or tight end going over the middle. Mitchell is solid in run support too. I’ve seen him blow up an offensive lineman pulling through a gap.
So overall, after a tough first year I think it’s time we all formally recognize Mike Mitchell is pretty good and will be an asset for the Steelers. Which is good because he’ll be hanging around Pittsburgh until the 2019 season.