The Steelers signed free agent free safety Mike Mitchell this offseason, hoping to inject some athleticism into a defense that's been undergoing a transformation over the last two years.
One of the chief storylines was his ability to blend and mesh with veteran Troy Polamalu without Polamalu being present at the voluntary portions of the team's offseason program. This was intensified a bit more when Mitchell missed the first week of training camp with a groin injury that landed him on the PUP list.
Polamalu didn't play in the Steelers' preseason-opening loss to the Giants last week, giving the duo exactly zero snaps together in the team's limited amount of stadium experience so far this year.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week the starters will play around one quarter Saturday when Pittsburgh hosts the Buffalo Bills, but that doesn't mean Polamalu will necessarily join them.
That isn't bothering Mitchell, nor is the lack of reps being given to the team's starting safeties.
"We’ve got two veteran guys playing the position so our chemistry is just fine," Mitchell told ESPN reporter Scott Brown. "If you notice when we’re out there (in practice) there’s not a lot of big plays being made. We’re on the same page a lot of the time. We’re two professionals."
The big play against the Giants was pretty much the only play their starters had against the Steelers - who were without starters Steve McLendon and Ryan Shazier along with Polamalu. But those big plays are exactly what dogged the Steelers in 2013, and the prevention of them was a big reason the Steelers signed the aggressive safety Mitchell.
It's not as if Polamalu needs game reps to know what he's going to do. The issue is more Mitchell knowing what Polamalu is doing - a skill mastered by Clark over the years as the battery combined to contribute to one of the league's top defenses over the seven years they played together. Mitchell says he's studied intensely this offseason and he was at every practice session.
Even if they don't get any snaps Saturday against Buffalo, they've practiced together for the majority of training camp. A lot is expected of Steelers' free safeties in terms of contributing to solid tackling, and the gaffe in that discipline last week should motivate Mitchell and the rest of the defense to worry more about the fundamentals than anything else.