Q&A: Mike Mitchell

Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell enjoyed a breakout season a year ago with the Carolina Panthers, the Steelers' Sunday night opponent.

Mike Mitchell, FS, Pittsburgh Steelers

Q: What does this mean playing your old boys?

MM: Not too much. It's just a regular game. It does mean a lot that it's Sunday Night Football. That's the emphasis. I'm just going to play it like any other opponent. Obviously we need to get back on track. It's a big game for us.

Q: What was it like facing Cam Newton in practice?

MM: He's very good, a very mobile guy with a very strong arm. People think because of his athleticism that he always wants to run. He's truly a pocket passer but he just has great athleticism so he's able to extend plays with his feet and make some explosive plays with his legs.

Q: What kind of trouble does that give a free safety?

MM: My job is to trust the 10 guys in front of me. A lot of the times I line up 20 yards deep, so we've made a couple mistakes if the ball gets to me. So it really doesn't affect me. His strengths are as a pocket passer and he makes all the deep throws. That's my job, to keep the deep throws off of us. That'll be my responsibility in this game, just like it has been for most of the games that I've played in as a Steeler. I'll trust the other guys to take care of him up front. We have to get a pass rush and keep him in the pocket.

Q: How strong is his arm comparatively?

MM: I don't know if you can compare it. He can make any throw that any of the elite quarterbacks make. He's knocking on the door of being an elite quarterback. I think he's growing every game, every season, from the neck up, and that's the biggest thing for him.

Q: What's that place going to be like on Sunday night?

MM: It's going to be huge. Their crowds really get excited for prime-time games. It really wasn't an organization known for a whole lot of winning, so last year for them to have the success was big. And to start out with a fast start, we need to expect a hostile crowd. It's going to be very exciting, very good energy to play in.

Q: Is there one guy you'd really like to lay out? And on the other side is there a guy you would feel bad about laying out?

MM: There's really no one on the team that I have anything personal against. I really like those guys. If you come across the middle of the field, no matter what team you play for or what jersey you're wearing, I want to hit you. I just have to be smart about penalties.

Q: In their preseason game, they were pretty vanilla. Are they going to come out with a fullback or an H-back as often as they did in that game?

MM: Maybe, I don't know. Definitely in the preseason, knowing that they play us again and knowing the coaches over there, I know it was vanilla. They just wanted to keep everybody healthy, I'm sure. Their offense really isn't a big 21 personnel with a fullback-tailback formation. They have a great tight end in Greg Olson and they signed another guy, so usually they play teams in 12 and 11 personnel and can run the ball very effectively out of all of those formations. As far as seeing a lot of regular 21 personnel, that's not really their forte, but they definitely use it on the goal line and in short-yardage very well.

Q: Are you expecting to play much nickel?

MM: No, I'm expecting to play whatever they're giving us, and then coach will get us in the right defense and we'll play it accordingly. We're going to match-up. That's what we do here. It's worked in the past.

Q: What's your comfortability factor here now? How are you fitting in and playing?

MM: We're 1-1. It's not time to sell the farm. Obviously there are a lot of things everyone on our defense can do to get better. You can't single out one group or one guy. I think we've just got to continue to improve every day. Today's a great day for us. Wednesday's hump day, a big work day for every team in the NFL. This is the day we've got to lay the foundation and really work to get better.

Q: So many new guys and guys in new positions. Is there a sense that it's going to start coming together?

MM: Yeah. The sense is we HAVE to get it to come together. Guys are definitely learning new positions and new things they have to do. It's just a matter of us all being on the same page. I don't really notice it so much in coverages and how we fit against the run. There aren't many formations where I'm involved in that, really. I'm 20 yards deep. But as a group we all have to collectively be on the same page. That question's probably better suited for someone up front.

Q: But do you feel good that it's going to all come together?

MM: Absolutely. I'm always optimistic. We have very talented players. We're very fast. We have a lot of skill. But skill doesn't mean anything if we're not playing as a unit, as a group, as a team. I think we're on the right track. We have good meetings. Everyone has a real positive, upbeat attitude, and I think everyone truly comes to work each day trying to get better.

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