PHOENIX -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he expects Mike Mitchell to play better in 2015. He also is “not opposed” to Mitchell playing strong safety given the uncertainty at the position.
The Steelers plan to move on from 12th-year veteran Troy Polamalu, putting Shamarko Thomas in line to start at strong safety in 2015. Thomas, however, has played primarily on special teams in his first two seasons, and his inexperience coupled with Mitchell’s aggressive sensibilities could cause the Steelers to take a look at Mitchell at strong safety.
Mitchell, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Steelers last March, started every game at free safety in 2014 and finished second on the team with 70 tackles. The sixth-year veteran did not record a sack or interception and was credited with just three passes defensed.
Mitchell became a target of fan ire even though he had to adjust to a new defense and also played through a groin injury in 2014. Tomlin said Mitchell is close to full strength and that the injury is a “non-issue.”
Familiarity with the Steelers, Tomlin said, will lead to significant improvement in Mitchell's second season with the team.
“That experience that comes with being in our environment and how we do business I think is a platform for them to improve,” Tomlin said Monday at the NFL owners meetings. “I say that all the time in regards people who have had a lap around the track with us, whether it’s an unrestricted free agent like Mike Mitchell or whether it’s a drafted guy.”
Mitchell, despite his struggles last season, is as sure a thing as the Steelers have on the back end of their defense right now.
Thomas hasn’t played significant snaps on defense since the first half of his rookie season and Polamalu has almost certainly played his last down for the Steelers even though the eight-time Pro Bowler has two years left on his contract.
The Steelers are giving Polamalu time as he mulls retiring or playing in 2015 with the hope he calls it a career so they don’t have to release him.
Team president Art Rooney II said last Friday that he had no update on Polamalu. General manager Kevin Colbert said on Sunday that the team has not set any deadline as far as Polamalu making a decision on his future.
“I’m not getting into Troy,” Tomlin said about the future Pro Football Hall of Famer. “That’s been documented. Art’s made comments and I don’t need to add on to that. It doesn’t serve as any purpose.”