No one on the Steelers, it seems, enjoys laying a good hit more – nor does it more often – than Mike Mitchell.
And make no mistake, few who saw Jordan Dangerfield’s hit on the Saints’ Marcus Murphy delivered late in Friday night’s preseason win in New Orleans enjoyed it more than Mitchell.
“If ‘Danger’ gets an opportunity to lay you out,” Mitchell said, almost beaming, “that is one thing he is going to do, no question.”
Thing is, Mitchell sees a little of himself in Dangerfield, who’s entering his fourth autumn in the employ of an NFL team – thereby, by definition, making him a professional football player – but has yet to spend time on an NFL team’s 53-man roster nor, of course, play in a regular-season game.
That – potentially – could finally end this season.
“Danger is one of my favorite guys,” Mitchell said early last week. “He’s a guy literally who shows up everyday; he’s happy to be here, he’s an extremely hard worker, If you’re a football purist, you root for guys such as Jordan Dangerfield to make the team and you root for them to be successful.”
It’s hard to imagine that anyone has appeared in an official transaction for the Steelers more often than Dangerfield has over the past 32 months.
Counting practice-squad transactions, he’s been signed on six different occasions by the Steelers in that time span. Of course, that also implies that he’s been released almost just as often. And that doesn’t even count being let go by the Buffalo Bills after they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Towson, an FCS school.
Getting cut so often can’t be easy. But the gregarious Dangerfield flips it – he’s also been SIGNED six times by the Steelers, right? How many people can say that?
“It shows how much they see in me — or how much potential they see I have,” Dangerfield said. “So I am just trying to show them that I can contribute to the team any way they want me to.”
But how can you stay positive after being let go so many times?
“I just look at it, everything happens for a reason,” Dangerfield said. “It’s a business more than anything, the numbers and all that. I could use James Harrison as a prime example, he was cut a handful of times and he was patient, obviously, with it — and he became defensive player of the year, All Pro and all that. So I look at him for some motivation, and God-willing, just when my time comes I’m ready and can show them what I’ve got.”
As it has been during each of his previous three training camps – and as it is for all of the other rookie and first-year players on the 90-man camp roster – Dangerfield’s goal is to make the 53-man roster when the regular season begins in two weeks.
He acknowledges, via “the numbers” he alluded to earlier, that this might be his best chance.
With the injury to Senquez Golson (and, to a lesser extent, the less-serious injury to Artie Burns), the trickle-down effect in the Steelers’ secondary (re: rookie Sean Davis moved from safety to slot cornerback) has left the team perilously thin at safety. After starters Mitchell and Robert Golden, the only player with any NFL experience is Shamarko Thomas, who played just 20 defensive snaps last season.
That means, there’s a roster spot there for the taking. And barring an acquisition from outside the organization, no one is in a more prime position to take it than Dangerfield. (Neither Jacob Hagen nor Ray Vinopal has distinguished himself – cornerback Doran Grant’s sometimes-on-again-off-again move to safety notwithstanding).
In Friday’s preseason win at New Orleans, Davis was the only defensive player who logged more snaps than Dangerfield — a potential sign that the organization wanted to get a good long look at him in advance of the first cuts, and wants to get Dangerfield as many game reps as possible.
Three years into the Steelers’ playbook, Dangerfield says he can play either free or strong safety, having mastered the subtle details of each. He also, of course, is eager to play special teams – which is, of course, the gateway for players onto the roster to make a mark, particularly at the safety position, where the body type and skill set is often perfect for special teams.
“I’m going to just try to put it all on the field and show them what I have,” Dangerfield said.
“You gotta just be patient, keep faith in God and I’m just taking advantage of each opportunity I get to play this game that I love.”
An outgoing type, Dangerfield has at least one teammate rooting for him.
“We appreciate everything he brings to us, from his mentality, to his approach to work,” Mitchell said. “He’s one of those guys who’s a small-school guy like me. He comes out here, he wants to prove it every single day.
“He’s a little quieter than me. But… he kind of has that little chip on his shoulder, and I love that.”