Good campers: Mitchell getting to know Polamalu

June 17, 2014
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu pulls in a pass during minicamp Tuesday. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Mike Mitchell is getting settled in as the Steelers’ new starting free safety, becoming familiar with his playbook, teammates and terminology.

What he hadn’t done yet was take the field with All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu – until Tuesday.

Mitchell isn’t sure how long it will take until the duo develops a solid trust factor.

“It could take a day. I could take a couple of games,” said Mitchell, a five-year veteran who was signed in the offseason as a free agent from Carolina to replace Ryan Clark. “A lot of football is just personal relationships. I remember last year in Carolina, it took 15 weeks for a corner to trust me when I told him to go jump it. The more a guy trusts you, the more apt he is to listen. He knows about you. He knows what you’re all about. He knows what you’re trying to do. That comes with time. You’ve got to do the right thing repetitively and go from there.”

How did things work out with that corner, Melvin White?

“He was a rookie, and he always wanted to do what the coach said,” said Mitchell. “I got him a pick six not doing what the coach said. We ended up winning the game by six in Atlanta.”

The Steelers hope the process doesn’t take quite that long for Mitchell and Polamalu.

Polamalu, a Pro Bowl player eight times in his previous 11 seasons, and Clark had been together since 2006. They remain the best of friends, with their families often spending time together.

Though he had spoken with Mitchell briefly a couple of times by phone, they hadn’t met until Tuesday, the first day of the mandatory mini-camp that ends later this week. Polamalu, as has been the case for much of his career, prefers to work out in the offseason on his own rather than attend optional sessions.

“It wasn’t until I showed up today that I found out Ryan wasn’t signed back,” Polamalu joked. “It was great to meet (Mitchell) in person and to work with him. (I’m) really excited. Today was a great first day for us.”

They will need many more of these kind of days in order to get on the same page with what each is doing on the field. Even at that, they might still never get to the level of comfort that Polamalu and Clark shared.

“There’s always an adjustment, but the safety position, I think, for every team is just a plug-and-play position,” Polamalu said. “Obviously here, it’s really unique in how we work things, how we play things, how we’re able to maneuver different positions of the defense, the understanding of the defense.”

It could help that Mitchell has had to learn new defenses and had new coaches pretty much throughout his career. In four seasons in Oakland, which selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft, Mitchell played for three different head coaches. Then, he signed a one-year deal with Carolina last season, playing for his fourth head coach in five seasons, before signing a five-year, $25-million deal to join the Steelers.

The Steelers wanted more speed and playmaking ability at safety next to Polamalu, who has long been the team’s most disruptive defender. Now, Pittsburgh feels it has two disruptive safeties – providing Mitchell can hit the ground running when the regular season begins.

“I’ve had plenty of experience playing for different head coaches and different defensive coordinators,” said Mitchell, who had 66 tackles, four interceptions and 3.5 sacks in 2013. “I’ve actually gotten into a rhythm of learning a new defense every year. It’s been pretty easy for me. The guys here are great, too. They welcomed me in and it’s a really good place to play.”

Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake feels the duo can help make the entire defense better, once they get on the same page.

“I’m excited to see them play this year,” Lake said. “Both of them have experience, especially Troy. I just think they need to spend these three days understanding each other, getting to know each other personally, and I think they’ll carry that into training camp.”

Odds and end zones

Penn State head coach James Franklin and members of his staff were in attendance. ... Linebacker Jason Worilds, who sat out most of the OTA sessions with an undisclosed injury, participated in individual position workouts but not in the team portion of practice. ... Rookie wide recevier Martavis Bryant was ill and did not attend practice.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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