Steelers notebook: Mike Mitchell ready to prove value



Mike Mitchell doesn't have to show the Steelers what he can do. He doesn't have to prove to his new teammates that he is capable of replacing Ryan Clark at free safety and starting alongside Troy Polamalu.

After all, the Steelers didn't go out on the first day of free agency and sign him to a five-year, $25 million contract for nothing.

Nonetheless, after spending the first full week on the physically unable to perform list with a groin injury, Mitchell was glad to pass a physical and be back on the field Monday with his teammates.

"My approach is, I want to come out here and earn it with my brothers every day," Mitchell said. "To see them, they're all banged up and how sore they are, I want to feel that way, too. You feel like you let everyone down when you can't participate and you can't practice.

"The big thing I hang my hat on, and good NFL players hang their hat on, is your availability to play every single day and have guys be able to trust you and count on you and rely on you. It's frustrating to not be able to do that."

Mitchell was brought in to add speed to the back end of the defense and, hopefully, add some larceny to a defense that had 10 interceptions in 2013, tied for third fewest in the league.

In addition to having four interceptions with the Carolina Panthers, Mitchell also had 3½ sacks and two forced fumbles.

A former second-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2009, Mitchell was timed at 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day at Ohio University.

"If I was a rookie, it would be different," Mitchell said. "This is my sixth year, so I got five years worth of 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, it's your resume. You're putting yourself out there. It's about what you're about."

But he added: "I'm not out there to do anything crazy. I'll ease back in. They'll see when the games count."

Run defense beefs up

The biggest schematic dilemma the Steelers faced in the offseason was how to improve their run defense while spending so much time in their sub-packages.

The Steelers ranked 21st in the league against the run in 2013, allowing an average of 115.6 yards per game.

Part of the reason: The Steelers were in their sub-packages with five or more defensive backs and two down linemen 65 percent of the time.

But the Steelers brought in a couple big bodies in Cam Thomas (6-foot-4, 330 pounds) and rookie Daniel McCullers (6-7, 352) to beef up the front line. They also added rookie Stephon Tuitt, their second-round choice, who is not as big (6-5, 303) but more athletic.

"We have a good balance of bigger bodies and more athletic bodies," said defensive end Cam Heyward. "We'll be able to be more versatile. If we can get double-teams and eat them up, that means someone else will be free."

Jones looks better at QB

No quarterback in University of Oklahoma history started as many consecutive games as Landry Jones, who started 48 in a row while setting Big 12 records for passing yards (16,646) and touchdowns (123) in a career.

Inactivity, of course, is something to which he is unaccustomed.

But that's what Jones had in his rookie season with the Steelers, when he and top backup Bruce Gradkowski watched Ben Roethlisberger take every snap in 2013. And that's something he hadn't done since he was redshirted in 2008 by the Sooners.

"It took a little bit at the start of season; it was pretty rough there for a while," said Jones, a fourth-round draft choice. "Once you realize what you're there for, and what you're thankful for like, you're actually part of a great organization, you're just waiting for your opportunity."

Who knows when, or if, that opportunity will come for Jones or Gradkowski. That, though, is why Jones is eager to play Saturday night in the preseason opener against the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J.

Unlike last year, when he looked confused and was inaccurate as a passer in training camp, Jones has been much sharper and more self-assured at training camp this summer. He knows where he wants to go with the ball, and his throws are much stronger.

"Just being more comfortable and not having to learn the plays," Jones said. "You pretty much know what you're doing. You can be confident and go in there and play loose and not have to think too much."

Quick hits

Cornerback Ike Taylor was given the day off from practice. ... Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) missed practice and was replaced on the first-team defense by Sean Spence. Shazier was injured toward the end of practice Sunday. Center Maurkice Pouncey, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (groin) and nose tackle Steve McLendon also did not practice. Jones was replaced by Arthur Moats. It was the third practice in a row McLendon has missed . ... Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower and rookie inside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt returned to practice. ... Wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey (concussion) remained out. "We'll try to keep them as fresh as we possibly can to continue to prepare with an eye at the end of the week toward stepping in the stadium," Coach Mike Tomlin said, referring to the preseason opener Saturday night against the New York Giants. ... Defensive end Thomas and rookie offensive guard Will Simmons had the only fight of the day, exchanging punches in a team drill before coaches intervened.

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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