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Mike's measureables include his mind

Posted Mar 25, 2014

The Steelers believe new free safety Mike Mitchell has the smarts the position requires

Mike Mitchell’s measurables suggest the necessary size and speed, and his statistics imply the prerequisite ball skills. But that’s not what impressed the Steelers the most about their free-agent acquisition at safety.

“He’s big, he’s fast, and the biggest thing about the free safety position in our defense is you have to be smart,” General Manager Kevin Colbert said of Mitchell. “Based on the reports we had about Mike coming out of college, based on some of the things you can see him doing on film and some of the information we had with him in the NFL, we thought he’d be able to handle it.”

Mitchell, 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds, fits the profile the Steelers often pursue in free agency. He has been in the NFL for five seasons after arriving as a second-round pick of the Raiders (47th overall in 2009). He started 22 of 76 career regular season games and his 2013 numbers with the Carolina Panthers (13 starts, four interceptions, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, all career-high totals) indicate he may be ready to blossom.

“He’ll have to go through an adjustment period of making calls specific to our defense, but he certainly has the capabilities to do that,” Colbert said this week at the NFL Owners’ Meetings in Orlando. “He’s the type of guy we like to sign as a free agent.

“Usually, the guys we like to get if we do make a big investment are guys coming off their first contract. He’s coming off his second contract but his second contract was only for one year. The nice thing is he’s experienced, but I think there is a lot of room for continued growth.”

Mitchell, targeted to play free safety, won’t be the only player required to adjust at the position this season. Strong safety Troy Polamalu (pictured above) spent the last eight seasons lining up with Ryan Clark when both were healthy.

But Polamalu has handled such a transition once already.

“I know Troy had some anxieties when Chris Hope left (following the 2005 season, three campaigns into Polamalu’s Steelers’ tenure) and he and Ryan Clark became inseparable almost,” Colbert said. “Troy is a special player, and I’m sure once he gets to know Mike and Mike gets to know Troy and they begin to work together, I think there will be a comfort zone they’ll find there, as well.”

Mitchell, who turns 27 on June 10, started just nine games in four seasons with the Raiders.

“He wasn’t a starter early in his career,” Colbert said. “You don’t think you possibly have seen the best, but what he’s shown so far, it was exciting because he was certainly productive for a good defense (last season in Carolina).”

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