Old And Slow? LOL!

New Steelers FS Mike Mitchell (Donnan/USA TODAY)

This isn't your father's -- or even your older brother's -- Steelers defense anymore. As one RB put it, "Athleticism is taking over."

Thursday was a day to work on the long ball, and Le'Veon Bell got his.

Bell, the running back who lines up as a receiver at times, ran even with William Gay but Ben Roethlisberger got rid of it early and timed it perfectly, or just before the new free safety, Mike Mitchell, could get over to the far sideline.

Bell came down with the ball, a rare defeat for Mitchell, who's the Steelers' new free safety, and a fast one.

While Ryan Clark showed the Steelers how to win with brains, it's also true that speed kills. And Mitchell, who was timed in the 40 by the Oakland Raiders at 4.39 at his 2009 pro day, is just another speedy addition to the Steelers' next-era defense.

Has Le'Veon noticed a difference?

"Most definitely," said Bell. "For one I think a lot of guys are able to play faster because it's their second year, guys like Jarvis (Jones) and Shamarko (Thomas), guys like that knowing exactly what they've got to do and doing it a lot faster. Obviously Ryan Shazier is a very fast guy. He can close fast. And LT (Lawrence Timmons) is obviously a fast guy. Overall they're playing faster and they know where they have to be. Athleticism is taking over."

The Steelers lost leadership in Clark, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote and Brett Keisel this off-season, but added speed in Mitchell, first-round pick Shazier, second-round pick Stephon Tuitt and free agent Arthur Moats.

Shazier, the new mack linebacker, was timed by the Steelers at 4.40, while Tuitt, a 310-pound defensive end, was once timed at 4.78. Moats, the backup to Jason Worilds at LOLB, was timed at 4.69 at the 2010 combine.

As Bell pointed out, the Steelers are also expecting faster play from second-year players such as Jones and Thomas, as well as Vince Williams and Terence Garvin. They also signed cornerback Brice McCain, who was timed at 4.33 seconds during the 2009 draft season.

Throw recovering linebacker Sean Spence into the mix -- and even the fastest LB coach in the NFL, Joey Porter -- and the national media can finally stop using Warren Sapp's "old and slow" comment from 2011 to describe the Steelers' defense.

"Even the nose tackle can move," said reporter and former player Craig Wolfley. "I was standing on the sideline when Steve McLendon was running past me to get to the ball down the field. I think I now know what it's like to run with the bulls at Pamplona."

No one on the unit flashes to the sideline like Shazier, but the most obvious upgrade is Mitchell, who was described by one Steelers scout as "an overdrafted core special-teamer until he broke out last year."

The scout said that Mitchell "made one wow play after another last year," but Mitchell, who had 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 3 1/2 sacks last season, was too humble to pick out a favorite.

"I have a wow moment," he said, "and that was beating the Saints at home and clinching our division and then beating Atlanta (and) getting our bye. That was a wow experience for our whole team. Me, personally, I don't know. We had some good moments. I made some decent plays but I feel that was just me sticking my toe in the water. I expect to make even bigger, better plays this year, and I've got a great guy to learn from in Troy Polamalu."

And that's more speed, because spring absentees Polamalu and Ike Taylor have long been the fastest guys on the Steelers' defense. Maybe they don't run in the 4.3s as they did coming out of college, but their honed instincts no doubt make them the fastest graybeards in the league.

"When he gets here I'm going to be all in his pocket trying to figure out what he does," Mitchell said of meeting Polamalu. "I don't know if I'll be jumping over the center, but I do plan on taking the ball away."

And that could very easily become a theme for this defense.

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