LATROBE — Mike Mitchell wasn’t looking for a handout when he signed on the dotted line with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So it was quite unsettling to him to have to begin his career here on the physically unable to perform list with a groin injury. It was somehow vindicating to him that he was removed from that list Monday and was able to practice with his new teammates for the first time Monday afternoon.
“Something’s been taken away from me, so to get that back feels good,” Mitchell said. “I kind of looked at it as a blessing in disguise. First, I was down, I was frustrated. But, like coach (Dick) LeBeau says, you can’t keep a good man down. So I just focused on the things I could control, which is get better in the film room, get stronger in the upper body and just do my rehab every day.”
You could tell from watching Mitchell go through the running portion of his rehab that he is all business on the football field, even though he wasn’t doing anything with his new teammates. He signed with the Steelers as a free agent from Carolina and has been penciled in from day one as a starting free safety, replacing Ryan Clark.
“You definitely want to get out there, but at the same time you have to be smart,” Mitchell said. Trainer “John Norwig and our doctors are the best. They’ve done a good job. They know my personality. I want to go hard all of the time, so they did a good job keeping the reigns on me a little bit and now they are going to ease me back into it. I’ve just got to be smart and make sure I stay on top of everything.”
Mitchell missed the first eight practices of his first training camp with the Steelers and it bothered him a lot, even though he’s far from a rookie.
“If I was a rookie, it would be a little bit different,” he said. “But this is my sixth year and I’ve got five years worth of game film that any of my teammates can go look at if they need to know how I play the game of football. But every time you step on the field, it’s your resume, so I’m just going to go out there and play the way I play. I’m not going to try anything crazy, I’m getting eased back in today. They’ll see when the games count.”
Mitchell’s status for Saturday’s preseason opener at the New York Giants is a coach’s decision and likely won’t be decided until Thursday at the earliest, but again, that’s not a game that counts, especially for a veteran and penciled-in starter like Mitchell.
In the meantime, Mitchell relishes the opportunity to practice with his new teammates.
“It’ll be nice,” he said. “It’s a little bit different in practice. I don’t have the same intentions I would necessarily have in a game, so you’ve still got to wait for that. But it’s going to be good just to practice and earn my keep, so to speak.”
Really? Earn his keep?
“My approach to the game is that 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 sore. I want to feel that way, too. You kind of feel like you’re letting everyone down when you can’t participate, can’t practice.
“The big thing I hang my hat on, and the good NFL players hang their hat on, is your availability to be able to play every day and have guys be able to trust you and count on you and rely on you. It’s frustrating not being able to do that. Injuries happen, but to be able to get back out there definitely is going to make me feel better.”
A consummate professional, Mitchell said he was like a sponge throughout OTAs and mini-camp, which should help him ease his way back onto the field.
“I took pretty much all of the reps in OTAs and I had my playbook and everything,” he said. “So I studied over the summer and I took every single mental rep that you could possibly take out there. I feel prepared. I think our group from top to bottom is pretty solid. I think we’re a close-knit group, as far as communicating. We’re working on that every single day. That doesn’t change. We’ll be working on that from now until the Super Bowl.”
From this humble beginning, Mitchell hopes for a glorious ending.