All good things must come to an end.
Such was the case for former Pittsburgh Steelers’ safety Ryan Clark after a disappointing eighth season on the team’s defensive squad. It could be seen that the veteran safety had lost a step throughout the year, and that he may just not be able to handle contending with some of the younger receivers in the game as he enters the twilight of his career.
Above is a fine example. While Ike Taylor is just as much at fault, Clark was not able to insure that New England Patriots’ wide receiver Aaron Dobson was properly covered in the event he outmaneuvered Taylor. Dobson used his speed, which the two defensive backs in their mid-thirties severely lacked, to put the Pats even further ahead in a game that would truly show the perforations in a tattered Steelers’ defense.
This could not go on any longer. It was imperative that the organization stop the bleeding that was the decline of the team’s secondary. Many figured that Shamarko Thomas, who the Steelers moved up to draft in 2013, would assume the role of safety, but his inexperience to the game could prove just as ineffective as retaining Clark.
To stop the bleeding, Pittsburgh turned to the same method they used to acquire Clark after losing Chris Hope to the Tennessee Titans after the 2005 season: Free Agency.
Enter Mike Mitchell; a former second round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders who spent his first four years in the league in Silver and Black before doing a one year stint with the Carolina Panthers in 2013. In one year as a starter for the Panthers, Mitchell tripled his interceptions with four in one season compared to two in four years, and three and a half sacks – the exact number he had in his entire length as a Raider.
Whether it was being under a better system or the idea of a fresh start, 2013 proved that Mike has what it takes to be a productive safety in the NFL, which is more than likely what caught the eye of the Steelers when they pursued him as a free agent.
Mitchell and Clark are quite similar in comparison, which makes his signing that much more understanding. They both measure in at roughly six foot even and a little over two hundred pounds. In addition to having a mirroring physique, they have both been notorious for making gruesome hits on their opponents throughout their careers. Pittsburgh has always been known for a smash-mouth style of play on defense, and Mike Mitchell fits that role to a T.
Along with a tenacious style of play, Mitchell also brings to the defense a sense of youth. Turning twenty seven in June, 2014 will be the first in many years that the Steelers have had a definite starting safety under the age of thirty in the secondary.
While age may only be a number in some cases, it can only be advantageous to have a player without as many years on him as what the Steelers are used to. Mitchell plays with the instincts of a seasoned veteran, having a keen sense for the football and making clean tackles, which shows that skill is just as important as years in the game.
What makes Mike an exciting part of this defense already is not what he is expected to do on the field, but what he is already doing to prepare for it. He is already hard at work by joining the team is off season activities, which goes a long way in showing what kind of work ethic he has as a player.
Describing himself as “a hardworking guy” is something you would expect a new addition to a team to say, but his play on the field in the past represents it. Coming from a team that had a very legitimate shot of having a deep run in the postseason last year, he knows the effort it takes to excel in the league, and there is no doubt he is determined to help lead his new team back into the postseason after two heartbreaking seasons.
Will Mike Mitchell’s career as a Pittsburgh Steeler prove to be as fruitful as Ryan Clark’s? Only time will tell at this juncture. He has the mind and skill sets to prove an invaluable part of Pittsburgh’s defense for years to come, and it will no doubt be exciting to watch him take his next step into his career.