Is Mike Mitchell Emerging as a Leader of the Steelers Secondary?

Steelers 2016 OTAs began yesterday, and Steelers Nation got some news, well sort of. OTA’s are “football in shorts” and little real news comes out of them or otherwise the Steelers won’t let reporters record and post footage such as this:

Nonetheless, Steelers Nation learned Ben Roethlisberger has shed weight and is looking to be in top shape. Maurkice Pouncey looks healthy and Le’Veon Bell is running, cutting and calling out Vontaze Burfict trying to hurt people.

This latter bit of information tells us that Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler are not going to repeat what they did during 2014’s OTA’s when they immediately installed Ryan Shazier as the starter over veterans Vince Williams and Sean Spence. But Shamarko’s position is strong safety, and Golden is clearly ahead of him on the depth chat.

That gave Mike Mitchell the chance to talk with Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, and in doing so he praised the work of draft picks Artie Burns and Sean Davis, boasting of the interceptions notched by the secondary. His assessment also included phrases like, “I was happy with the overall group’s work today” and

I think when we played our best football we were definitely hitting people, we were jamming at the line of scrimmage, we had great communication and we played like a unit. That’s what I want to impart on the young guys so that way we can hit the ground running.

Assessments like that from someone like Mike Mitchell show just how far the secondary has come in such a short time. Less than three years ago, when then Tribune Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic wanted to take the temperature of a team trying to rebound from an 8-8 showing, he sought out “the souls of the franchise” Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu.

Kovacevic was right. Both men were such a fundamental part of the Steelers defense that most fans probably forget that it was Chris Hope, and not Clark, who started alongside Polamalu in Super Bowl XL.

  • But both men have begun their “Life’s work.”

So has Ike Taylor another leader from the defense, and another member of the secondary. Mike Mitchell’s comments give the impression that he is growing into a leadership role on the defense, which would be a welcome sight. During his first year, many fans wondered with the Steelers had stepped outside their comfort zone to make a “Splash free agency signing.” But Mitchell was injured, he quite frankly wasn’t prepared to play with Polamalu.

  • In 2015, Mitchell grew into the impact player the Steelers expected him to be.

Mitchell hauled down 3 interceptions, forced 2 fumbles and recovered two more – welcome sight on a defense suffering from a chronic turnover drought. To say that the Steelers secondary is “green” understates the fact. Other than Mitchell, only William Gay has double digit starts to his name. Ross Cockrell and Golden played well in 2015, but their sampling of work is limited. Senquez Golson, Artie Burns and Sean Davis have yet to play a snap in the NFL while Doran Grant’s snap count is measured in single digits.

Yes, Mike Mitchell’s emergence as a leader in the Steelers secondary would be a welcome occurrence.

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