PITTSBURGH – For a player who believed he was being targeted by the NFL after being fined five times last season, new Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell transformed his attitude and his style of play.
“I’ve adjusted to the new rules changes,” Mitchell said Thursday, “and just looked forward to playing clean football and not getting fined this year.”
After four seasons with the Oakland Raiders and one with the Carolina Panthers, Mitchell is expected to earn a starting role in the Steelers’ secondary this season.
Though Mitchell might have toned down his heavy-hitting ways, he still plans to make an immediate impact with his ball-hawking skills. The Steelers had just 10 interceptions last year, 29th in the NFL, while Mitchell had four picks in one season with Carolina.
“I guess I made some big plays, but that was just me sticking my toe in the water,” Mitchell said. “I expect to make even bigger and better plays this year, and I have a great guy to learn from in Troy Polamalu. I don’t know if I’ll be jumping over the center, but I do plan on taking the ball away.”
That’s been a major issue in recent years for the Steelers, who haven’t created more than 20 turnovers in a season since 2010 even as they have remained near the top of the league in yards allowed. Mitchell isn’t wasting any time getting settled during the first organized team activities.
“I had a great break on a ball today and should have picked it, but A.B. (Antonio Brown) did a good job getting his hands up there,” Mitchell said. “I should have brought it down. Shamarko (Thomas) is leading the way with one pick, but I should have had one, too.”
Thomas, a fourth-round pick last year, has not been able to get on the field often enough to make the kind of splash plays the Steelers so desperately need, but expects to have more opportunities this season.
“Sure, I want to do a lot more this year,” Thomas said. “I have three veteran safeties to learn from in Troy, Mike and Will Allen. Mike, he brings a lot of athleticism to the group, and he’s made some great reads on the ball.”
Mitchell has played for three teams in three seasons, but the six-year NFL veteran believes there are some good points to go with the bad ones.
“It’s bad, because I’ve had to leave some good friends behind,” said Mitchell, who turns 27 next month. “But it’s good, because I’ve been able to have a lot of different experiences, playing for different coaches and different schemes. That’s why this transition. Coach (Dick) LeBeau’s defense isn’t easy, but I’ve actually picked it up fairly well.”
Mitchell believes playing in so many different defensive systems may actually be to his advantage.
“In Oakland, I felt like I played for three different teams in four years, because we were always changing head coaches,” Mitchell said. “So, learning a new scheme is nothing that’s too different for me. I think that I’ve handled it well. (And) I made a couple plays this week, but there’s many more to be made.”
Notes: The Steelers signed CB Shaquille Richardson from Arizona, their fifth-round pick, and have five of nine draft choices under contract. … The top four picks are still unsigned, though they should come into the fold soon. Pittsburgh will free up $8 million in cap space when the March release of linebacker LaMarr Woodley officially hits the books. … The club signed two players Thursday and released two. They signed rookie free agent offensive lineman Emmanuel McCray and claimed cornerback Deion Belue off waivers from the Miami Dolphins. … To make room on the roster, the Steelers released offensive linemen Nik Embernate and Kaycee Ike.