Mike Mitchell says he won't dive over the center, but he will make plays

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers' free agent free safety hopes to learn from Troy Polamalu but won't try to emulate him.

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Mitchell said not to expect him to jump over an opposing center to make a play like Troy Polamalu or chatter incessantly like Ryan Clark, the starting safeties for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season.

But expect the athletic, soft-spoken Mitchell, acquired in the offseason via free agency, to be a playmaker from his free safety position.

The Steelers had just 10 interceptions last year, 29th in the NFL, while Mitchell had four picks in one season with the Carolina Panthers' highly rated defense.

"I guess I made some big plays, but that was just me sticking my toe in the water,'' Mitchell said. "I expect to make even bigger and better plays this year, and I have a great guy to learn from in Troy Polamalu.''

Polamalu isn't expected to join the Steelers for voluntary OTAs, as the club completed the third of 10 Thursday afternoon, but he should return for mandatory mini-camp June 17-19.

"When he gets here, I'm going to be all in his pocket trying to figure out what he does,'' Mitchell said. "I don't know if I'll be jumping over the center, but I do plan on taking the ball away.''

That's been a point of contention for the Steelers in recent years, as they were a minus-4 with 20 takeaways (10 interceptions, 10 fumbles) against 24 giveaways (14 picks, 10 fumbles). The Steelers also had just 34 sacks and allowed 43. They were a minus-10 in 2012 with 30 turnovers and just 20 takeaways, but were last in the NFL with 15 takeaways in 2011 (11 picks and just four fumble recoveries).

"I had a great break on a ball today and should have picked it, but A.B. (Antonio Brown) did a good job getting his hands up there,'' Mitchell said. "I should have brought it down. ... Shamarko (Thomas) is leading the way with one pick, but I should have had one, too.''

Thomas, the Steelers fourth-round pick last year, has not been able to display his heavy-hitting and ball-hawking skills too often during his brief NFL tenure. But he expected to shine this season.

"Sure, I want to do a lot more this year,'' Thomas said. "I have three veteran safeties to learn from in Troy, Mike and Will Allen. Mike, he brings a lot of athleticism to the group, and he's made some great reads on the ball.''

Mitchell has played for three teams in three seasons, but the six-year NFL veteran believes there are some good points to go with the bad ones.

"It's bad, because I've had to leave some good friends behind,'' Mitchell said. "But it's good, because I've been able to have a lot of different experiences, playing for different coaches and different schemes. That's why this transition ... Coach LeBeau's defense isn't easy, but I've actually picked it up fairly well.''

Mitchell believed it was beneficial to play in many different defensive systems.

"In Oakland, I felt like I played for three different teams in four years, because we were always changing head coaches,'' Mitchell said. "So, learning a new scheme is nothing that's too different for me. I think that I've handled it well.''

Mitchell also appears to be a likable sort, certainly different from the out-spoken Clark whose Twitter comments tended to rub some the wrong way in recent years. So, expect Mitchell to grow into a leadership role on defense.

"It's not going to be vocal, but I'm the type of guy who comes out and works hard every day,'' Mitchell said. "(And) I made a couple plays this week, but there's many more to be made. And as I continue to make plays, people will believe in me more. And that's what it's all about.''

If Mitchell is able to catch the ball with any regularity, he should endear himself to Steelers fans immediately.

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