The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't owned a top-10 defense since 2012, when that Troy Polamalu-led team earned the No. 1 ranking for the fourth time in six seasons.
Since then, Pittsburgh watched a defensive erosion that had the Steelers cratering to the No. 21 ranked defense in 2015. A youth movement began last season, with Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Cameron Heyward, Sean Davis, and Artie Burns playing impact roles, boosting Pittsburgh back into respectability. The No. 12 defense in the NFL last season is a far cry from what Steelers fans are used to watching.
Veteran safety Mike Mitchell joined Pittsburgh in 2014, during the Steelers' defensive decline. He told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Steelers' D has the pieces to climb back up the rankings.
"I think we've made some progress, I think we took some strides last year to become a better defense," Mitchell said. "But if we're not No. 1, we're not good enough.
"I think those guys were top three for five, six, seven years in a row. It's on our walls everywhere, the standard it's the standard. That's such a true statement. Until we're winning Super Bowls on a consistent basis and we're in the top three on a consistent basis, we've got a lot of work to do."
Mitchell's teammates agree with the positive outlook entering training camp.
"We're going to be a good defense this year," Bud Dupree said. "We plan on being great."
"I think we have the right group of guys to work the right way to be successful," Mitchell said.