For all the inconsistency that has occurred in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary over the past two seasons, one man has been a constant source of reliability and play-making ability.
That man is Mike Mitchell. Brought to the Steel City to rejuvenate the Steelers’ safety position in 2014, Mitchell had an uneasy beginning to his career in Pittsburgh when he suffered a groin injury. While this should have sidelined him, he started in all seventeen game the Steelers played that year.
Never failing to voice their opinion, Steelers’ Nation deemed Mitchell’s signing a waste of salary cap space by the time the season was over. The smokescreen that was his 2013 season in Carolina would never be repeated, and four more years of failure were ahead.
Mitchell’s sophomore season would prove many doubters wrong, and show what the safety was capable of when he was relatively healthy. It’s highly unlikely many were calling for him to be cut after this hit in a division game, where every big play can determine the final score.
Or this hit on Oakland Raiders’ running back Latavius Murray that caused a fumble, giving the Steelers a chance to put themselves in position for an AFC victory which would be crucial in securing a playoff berth at the end of the season.
Say what you will about Mitchell, but the man plays hard-nosed football that the city of Pittsburgh has come to expect from it’s athletes. His concussion inducing hit on Tyler Eifert once again brought up talk of him being a dirty player and intentionally injuring other athletes.
In a contact sport such as football, these occurrences are sometimes the unfortunate nature of the sport, but do not make Mitchell a dirty athlete. He apparently doesn’t follow the “Steeler Way” of being an athlete, which has been lost for some time now if you ask a long tenured fan of the franchise.
This “Steeler Way” is the same that had fans cheering when Joe Greene bulldogged Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive guard, Joe Skaggs, to the ground by his face mask in the second game of his rookie season in 1969. Chalk it up to Greene being a young player, but he displayed drive and determination to win.
The true Steeler Way has and always will be the want and desire to win, and Mitchell put that on the field in the 1,048 snaps he appeared in last season. The Steeler Way is playing through injury and pain, which Mitchell did once again without his left shoulder and hand being at 100 percent.
Surgeries to his hand and shoulder early in the offseason have helped repair Mitchell’s injuries, and the safety displayed his state of health in an instagram video to his account. While it is uncertain if he will participate in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) beginning on May 24th, he should be ready for training camp later in the summer.
Mitchell’s third season in the Steelers’ backfield will once again have him paired with a different strong safety. After starting alongside veterans such as Troy Polamalu and Will Allen, Mitchell will start 2016 with either Robert Golden or rookie Sean Davis across from him.
Many assume Davis will start as early as week one against the Washington Redskins as the Steelers’ strong safety. Taking the chance by drafting him in the second round warrants that the organization will want to cash in on their investment as early as possible.
Being a seasoned veteran, Mitchell will find himself in a leadership role for his young counterpart. In many ways, Davis and Mitchell are alike in the fact that they are both devastatingly hard-hitters (Davis recorded five forced fumbles in his final year at Maryland), and were thought by many to be drafted higher than they should have been.
Being a leader that sets examples for his young teammates, Mitchell is not ready to make any proclamations of success without first putting in the work that will determine how fruitful their season together will be. Yet another example of the Steeler Way: The willingness to put in hard work to achieve success through it.
If Mitchell can stay healthy throughout the course of the 2016 season, he could find himself having one of the greatest seasons a Steelers’ free safety has had in quite some time. It could be said that he has the potential to earn his first Pro Bowl ballot if everything goes as it should.
Mitchell’s game has drastically improved since his first season in Pittsburgh. He takes better angles on the ball carrier, has lowered the number of penalties against him from five to two, and still displays the quickness that made him a value asset to Al Davis in the 2009 draft.
Love him or hate him, Mike Mitchell is not going away any time soon. There is a very good chance the safety will finish his career in Pittsburgh, which would not be a terrible thing if he continues his lights-out style of play. For now, he serves as the modern embodiment of the Steeler Way, something that the Steelers have been in desperate need of for many seasons.