Mike Mitchell is tough. You may not care for his behavior on, or off, the field, or maybe you think he isn’t that good, but his toughness is something you cannot question. Why? He has played through injury the past two seasons, both injuries which required surgery after the season to repair.
While the injuries themselves can be frustrating, especially knowing Mitchell hasn’t been at 100-percent in a long time, Mitchell was unable to avoid the injury bug again in 2017.
After the team’s first padded practice of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, Mitchell has yet to step on a football field doing anything even resembling a football drill, yet, he declares he will be playing in Week 1 when the Steelers start the season with a trip to Cleveland to play the Browns.
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Mike Mitchell hasn't missed a game in three years with the Steelers, playing in 48 consecutive during the regular season.
He doesn't expect that streak to end Sept. 10 in Cleveland even though the veteran safety hasn't practiced in four weeks.
“That is the plan,” Mitchell said when asked Tuesday if he will play in the season opener. “We'll have to just see. I'm doing more every day.”
Mitchell has been sidelined since July 30, the first padded practice at St. Vincent College, with what he coyly called a “lower extremity injury” and is believed to be to his hamstring.
On Tuesday, Mitchell was in partial uniform while his teammates practiced for the only time this week in advance of the preseason finale Thursday in Carolina.
Mitchell hasn't done individual drills, let alone participate in team portions, since his injury. Robert Golden has been starting in Mitchell's place in practice and preseason games.
Asked whether Mitchell will return next week when the Steelers begin preparing for the Browns, coach Mike Tomlin responded: “No idea. My focus has been on the guys that have been working.”
Mitchell acknowledged he will be behind when he returns.
“I think it would be fairly arrogant to just assume you can step back out there and play at this level without practice,” Mitchell said, “but I'm hoping that my nine years of preparation and awareness can pay off and help shorten that time.”
In 2014, his first season with the Steelers after signing a five-year contract as a free agent, Mitchell reported to training camp with a groin injury and played with it throughout the season before undergoing surgery.
“I'm not going to go out there and repeat former mistakes,” he said. “That's insanity.”
Mitchell defended that stance.
“I feel like I did this with a worse injury my first year and, at the end of the day, no one gives a damn,” he said. “If you're hurt and go out there and play, they are going to judge you by how well you play. I'm taking my time and making sure I'm right.”
Steelers tight end Jesse James isn’t shocked the Steelers added another tight end to the mix Tuesday when they acquired Vance McDonald in a trade. He’s just surprised that it happened at this juncture of training camp.
With 12 days until the regular-season opener in Cleveland, the Steelers traded for the former 49ers tight end because coach Mike Tomlin was unhappy with the consistency James and the other tight ends displayed during the first month of camp.
James, who started 13 games last season, admits the tight ends have endured some struggles this summer.
“Not surprised we added somebody,” James said. “Surprised at this point of camp we did. Going into it, we were kind of expecting someone to come in.”
James, a fifth-round pick out of Penn State in 2015, had 39 receptions for 338 yards and three touchdowns last season, his first as a starter. He was thrust into a starting role after free agent tight end Ladarius Green, who was signed to replace Heath Miller, struggled through an injury-plagued season. Green was released with a failed physical designation this spring.
Still, there were few indications during the offseason they were unhappy with James’ performance. The Steelers did not address the tight end position in the draft, though they did have their eye on Toledo’s Michael Roberts, who went to the Lions in the fourth round. They also didn’t add a tight end in free agency.
Whether James’ starting job is in jeopardy remains to be seen. Tomlin said McDonald won’t be anointed and must earn his playing time. In addition to James, McDonald will be competing against reserves Xavier Grimble and David Johnson.
That strip-sack of Ben Roethlisberger Saturday night by Colts linebacker John Simon that ended the Steelers promising first drive was not the fault of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, as first appeared. Tight end Jesse James, lined up outside the tackle, was supposed to pick up Simon but instead mistakenly blocked down inside for a run.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said many of his starters will not play in the preseason finale Thursday at Carolina, but he said the game remains an important part of the evaluation process for players who are battling for spots at the bottom of the roster.
“This fourth preseason game is always a big platform for guys to state one last case for being here,” Tomlin said. “Beyond that, the division of labor within being here and the etching of roles … There will be some significant action that regard. Whether it’s the competition at the corner position or the infusion of a savvy veteran into the tight end position, we’ll continue to watch the development of some men in special teams. They have a position and maybe that position comes natural to them, but some of them are being introduced to some different aspects of play.”
Many players over the years have earned spots on the 53-man roster because they played well in the fourth and final preseason game. Tomlin brought up former Steelers returner Stefan Logan and current safety Jordan Dangerfield as players who have cemented roster spots with their play in this game.