NFL: Mitchell finally makes his Steelers debut
LATROBE — Mike Mitchell prides himself on being reliable.
So it bothered the Pittsburgh Steelers safety when he wasn’t able to practice with his new teammates because of a groin injury that sidelined the five-year veteran during the first week of training camp.
Mitchell didn’t panic, exactly, but there was a sense of relief when he was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Monday, allowing him to put on the pads for the first time since he signed with the Steelers as a free agent in March.
“It’s just training camp, but it does feel good to be healthy and to be able to play again,” Mitchell said. “You kind of feel like something has been taken away from you. So to get that back, it does feel good.”
Mitchell, who wouldn’t reveal how he got hurt, had never dealt with a groin injury in his career. And while he didn’t report any lingering discomfort, Mitchell isn’t sure if he will play in the team’s first preseason game Saturday at the New York Giants.
The Steelers made Mitchell a priority in the offseason, reeling him in with a five-year, $25-million contract on the first day of free agency. The early injury setback frustrated Mitchell, who was eager to make a strong first impression.
“I want to come out here and earn it with my brothers every day,” Mitchell said. “To see them, they’re all banged up, and how sore they are ... I want to feel that way too. You kind of feel like you’re letting everyone down when you can’t practice.”
The 27-year-old Mitchell enjoyed a breakout season last year on a Carolina Panthers defense that ranked second in the league in yards allowed. Mitchell started a career-best 14 games and set personal highs with 74 tackles, 3.5 sacks, four interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles.
“He’s highly athletic, but we want to see what Mike does for us,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “Like coach says, your tape is your walking, talking, breathing r￩sum￩. Of course we saw what he did and I’m sure we got him for a reason. I have expectations. I just want to see what he can do for us.”
The heavy-hitting Mitchell, who also spent four seasons in Oakland, was brought in to replace 34-year-old veteran Ryan Clark, now in Washington. Mitchell, expected to add an element of speed and physicality, was a key piece of an offseason revamp for a once-aging defense that finished No. 15 overall in 2013.
Mitchell, who was fined five times in 2013 for various infractions, plans to tone it down some, at least in the preseason.
“I don’t have the same intentions that I would necessarily have in a (regular) game,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell looks forward to developing a close rapport with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, considered one of the best at his position. Polamalu and Clark were close friends and the chemistry carried onto the field where the two played together for eight seasons, helping the Steelers reach two Super Bowls and win a championship.
Mitchell hopes for similar results with Polamalu.
“Troy is a great professional,” Mitchell said. “I know the playbook very well. We talk every day in meetings and I think our relationship is getting better every single day. When you have one of the best safeties in the league to play with, your job isn’t that hard.”
Now Mitchell is ready to do his job, stepping in as a starting safety for the Steelers.
“It’s good just to practice and earn my keep,” Mitchell said.
NOTES: First-round pick LB Ryan Shazier, C Maurkice Pouncey, NT Steve McLendon, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, and LB Jarvis Jones missed practice with what coach Mike Tomlin described as “minor issues.” Taylor was given the day off. ... The Steelers, who capped a stretch of six straight practices on Monday, are off today.