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Getting to know you

Posted Jun 17, 2014

Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell don't anticipate a steep learning curve in their first year together

Forging the necessary relationship among defensive backs unaccustomed to playing with one another can take time on occasion, but it can be worth the wait.

“I remember last year in Carolina it took about 15 weeks for a cornerback to finally trust me when I said, ‘Go jump it,’” safety Mike Mitchell explained. “It’s just people and your relationships. The more a guy trusts you, the more apt he is to understand you. He knows about you, knows what you’re all about, what you’re trying to do.

“That comes with time. You don’t gain that in a day. You have to do the right thing repetitively, and then you start to build your relationship from there.”

It took longer than anticipated with Mitchell and Panthers cornerback Melvin White in 2013.

“He was a rookie and he always wanted to do what the coach said, but I got him a pick-six not doing what the coach said,” Mitchell recalled. “He trusted me after that.”

Mitchell is anticipating more of an accelerated process occurring with veteran Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

“For us it’ll just be communication and trust,” Mitchell said. “He needs to know how I play and how I think and me the same way, how he responds to certain situations, how he wants to handle motions, things like that. That only gets hammered out through repetition.

“We have practice today, we have tomorrow and the day after and then we have training camp. So we have plenty of time. We’re not trying to build Rome in a day. It’ll be a process. It’s football, so it’ll be pretty easy for us.”

Mitchell is accustomed to such a transition, having joined his third team in the last three seasons when he signed on with the Steelers. Polamalu, a fixture at safety in the Steelers’ starting lineup since 2004 when healthy, has been lining up alongside Ryan Clark at the position since 2006.

Since Polamalu opted not to attend voluntary OTAs, the opening of mandatory veteran minicamp offered the first opportunity for Polamalu and Mitchell to interact on a field in such a fashion.

“It wasn’t until I showed up today that I found out Ryan (Clark) wasn’t signed back,” Polamalu joked.

As for teaming up with Mitchell, “It was great to meet him in person and to work with him,” Polamalu continued. “Really excited. Today was a great first day for us.

“There’s always an adjustment, but the safety position, I think, for every team is just a plug-and-play position. Obviously here, it’s really unique in how we work things, how we play things, how we’re able to maneuver different positions of the defense, the understanding of the defense.

“I hope we’ll be as successful as Chris (Hope) and I were, as Ryan and I were, we’ll see.”

Among those curious to see how quickly the new tandem at safety comes together is inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons.

“It’s going to be great,” he said. “Both of those guys are pretty aggressive safeties. It’s going to be interesting to see who is going to sit back. Both of them want to attack.

“It’s going to be fun, though. We just have to get them a few reps, and I think everything will go well. Like anything else, it’s going to take time. When we get to Latrobe (for training camp) they’ll really get to know each other. As reps go on they’ll play better together.”

Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake assessed the process as off and running.

“Really good to see him,” Lake said of Polamalu. “(Polamalu and Mitchell) looked great. I’m excited to see them play this year. Both of them have experience, especially Troy. I just think they need to spend these three days understanding each other, getting to know each other personally, and I think they’ll carry that into training camp.”

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