In early 2014, safety Mike Mitchell had just finished his fifth year in the league, and his career appeared to be on the upswing. Mitchell tallied 66 tackles, 3.5 sacks, eight passes defensed and four interceptions the year before with the Carolina Panthers. When he joined the Steelers organization for the 2014 season, the former second-round draft pick out of Ohio should have been a boon to the organization. After he was signed in March, the editor of SB Nation's Panthers site Cat Scratch Reader gave Neal Coolong the inside info on Mitchell, "Big plays, bad emotional penalties."
Outside of a Twitter faux pas, emotional problems did not seem to be a liability. What about the big plays, though? In the offseason it was revealed that he was suffering from a groin injury so severe that it limited his ability to perform on the field. He logged no interceptions and had only three passes defensed. Mitchell ended up needing surgery.
His second hindrance was an apparently limited knowledge of the playbook. Though in 2014 he claimed he knew the playbook inside and out, Troy Polamalu was often seen on the field directing traffic, telling Mitchell his assignments and correcting missteps. In June of this year, he admitted he needed to study up a bit more. Two strikes against Mitchell.
It's 2015 and Mike Mitchell is injured yet again. This time it's his hamstring. While he does seem more serious about learning the playbook, he is currently unable to demonstrate his competence on the field. Sound familiar? Last year at training camp, Mitchell downplayed the severity of his injury amid assurances that he would be ready to contribute during the regular season while he missed out on much of training camp.
This year, Mitchell seems more reflective about his injury and taking care of his body, saying to Mark Kaboly at TribLive.com, "I learned so much I darn well near have my doctorate in anatomy." Part of what he has learned is that stoicism and powering through a serious injury is counterproductive, revealing, "Sometimes you have to admit you are hurt and take some time off. You can't be afraid to not seem manly if you are hurt. Now, I listen to those little subtle things."
According to Mitchell, the hamstring situation is little more than a "twinge." Hopefully, it really is minor. A healthier Mike Mitchell and an informed Mike Mitchell, who doesn't need a traffic cop to direct him around the field, will be a huge asset to the Steelers. He proved at Carolina that he has the capacity to be a playmaker, generating turnovers and terrorizing opposing offenses. The Steelers need someone with that skill set. Badly.
There is a difference between denial-based downplaying of an injury, and taking precautions to increase the chances of being closer to 100% when it matters. Let's hope this year it is the latter, and Mike Mitchell will be the contributor the Steelers hoped he would be.