LATROBE – The Steelers activated their big-ticket free agent acquisition, safety Mike Mitchell, from the physically unable to perform list Monday.
Mitchell, signed to a five-year, $25-million contract during the offseason to replace longtime starter Ryan Clark at free safety, had been out since training camp opened with a groin injury.
Mitchell (6-0, 210) is expected to bring additional speed and coverage ability to the back end of Pittsburgh’s defense. He’s also considered a big hitter, and led all NFL defensive backs with four sacks while recording 66 tackles in 2013 for Carolina.
But at least one of his teammates said he’s withholding judgment on Mitchell’s hitting ability – for now.
“Running-wise, you can tell he can cover whatever. Hitting-wise, we’ve got to see,” veteran cornerback Ike Taylor said. “There’s a difference between what somebody says he’s known as and our style of hitting. Our hitting might not be what you call hitting.
“Our safeties hit like linebackers. Other people compare safeties to safeties. I compare our safeties to linebackers. That’s how we hit here. We’ve never had a soft-hitting safety. All our safeties make a big impact, no matter what their size is.”
Working Monday for the first time and acting as if on cue, Mitchell came up and smacked running back Le’Veon Bell to the ground on the opening play of live running drills.
Later in the practice, Mitchell leaped high into the air to knock down a Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for Markus Wheaton at the goal line.
Mitchell doesn’t feel like he has something to prove after spending four seasons in Oakland, which selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft, and one in Carolina.
“I feel like if I was a rookie that would different. This is my sixth year,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got game film that any of them can go look at if they want to see how I play the game of football. Every time you step on the field, you’re building your résumé, you’re putting yourself out there, showing what you’re about.
“I’m just going to go out here and play the way I play. I’m not going to do anything crazy. They’ll see when the actual games count.”
But he also understands that as the new guy, he’s got something to prove, as well, after missing the first week of training camp practices.
“I want to come out here and earn it with my brothers. They’re all banged up and sore. I want to feel that way too,” Mitchell said. “You kind of feel like you’re letting everyone down when you can’t practice. The big thing I hang my hat on and what good NFL players hang their hat on, availability and being able to play every day. It’s frustrating not to be able to do that.”
He was tired Monday after his first practice, but it was a good tired.
“My legs are jelly right now,” Mitchell said. “There’s a big difference in conditioning and playing football.”
Odds and end zones
Taylor and center Maurkice Pouncey were given the day off by head coach Mike Tomlin. Linebackers Ryan Shazier (knee) and Jarvis Jones (groin), nose tackle Steve McLendon (illness) and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion) were also out. … Tight end Rob Blanchflower (ankle) and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) returned to practice Monday after sitting out the past week. … The Steelers are off today and return to practice Wednesday.