Steelers’ Mitchell can only watch, learn

July 27, 2014
Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell is shown going through drills during organized team activity in May. Mitchell might miss at least of week of training camp because of a groin injury. - Associated Press

LATROBE – Though head coach Mike Tomlin is saying new safety Mike Mitchell is likely to miss at least a week of training camp at Saint Vincent College because of a groin injury, the Steelers’ biggest offseason free-agent acquisition says the setback is not a significant one.

Mitchell, who was signed to a five-year, $25-million contract in the offseason to replace Ryan Clark at free safety, believes there are some benefits to him beginning training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Mitchell, who says he has a good grasp on the Steelers’ defense, has spent the first two days of training camp practices standing with defensive backs coach Carnell Lake 40 yards downfield from each play.

“It’s good for me because I’m standing back there with Coach Lake, so we’ll go over each play and I can see what the other guys are doing,” said Mitchell. “I teach myself, and if he corrects them, basically it’s like he’s correcting me at the same time because I just saw what the other guy did.”

That’s certainly a glass-half-full way to look at an injury.

In the meantime, veteran Will Allen is getting all of the snaps with strong safety Troy Polamalu in the first team defense with Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden as the backups.

Some might consider the use of Allen instead of Thomas or Golden as a strike against the latter players. But the Steelers are more concerned about the continuity of what Allen brings to the position while Mitchell is out for the short term.

“He’s what a 10-plus-year positional player should be about,” said Tomlin. “He’s extremely low maintenance. He’s position flexible. He plays strong, he plays free, he plays in a variety of the subpackages that we have – half safety, half linebacker, if you will. He adds value.”

And they have bigger plans for Thomas, in particular. He does for himself, as well.

A fourth-round draft pick last year, Thomas contacted Polamalu last month and asked to work out with him for a week in California.

“I texted him and told him I want to be great,” said Thomas, who is viewed as the 33-year-old Polamalu’s eventual replacement.

How did it go?

“(It was) like a karate movie,” Thomas said. “It’s like some ninja stuff. But it works for him and I feel like it will work for me, too.

“I was only out there for a week, but it felt like a month because he trains so hard. For a guy like that, who is going to be a Hall of Famer, to take me out there and show me the ropes, it was just an amazing experience. I changed a lot from my first year to my second year, and that’s from Troy talking to me every day.”

Mitchell had been looking forward to getting some extensive work at free safety next to Polamalu. Because Polamalu chooses to work out on his own in the offseason, the only time the two have been on the field together was at the mandatory minicamp.

That combination will have to wait.

“I know the playbook very, very well and you’ve just got to get out there and practice. When I’m back, we’ll be fine,” Mitchell said. “But we talk a lot, and I think our relationship is getting better every day. When you’ve got one of the best safeties in the league to play with, your job isn’t that hard.”

Odds and end zones

Sunday afternoon’s practice was cut short because of thunderstorms. … The Steelers are scheduled to practice at 3 p.m. today. It will be their first padded session of camp. There will be some contact drills. … Running back LeVeon Bell left practice early Sunday with tightness in his hamstring, though it is not considered serious. … California University wide receiver C.J. Goodwin also left early after landing hard on his shoulder. It also is not considered serious. … Center David Snow suffered a fractured foot Saturday and it will require surgery. … Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant sat out Sunday with a slight groin injury. … Guard Ramon Foster, who has been excused from camp after a death in his family, has returned and is expected to practice today.

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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