INDIANAPOLIS — When the Indianapolis Colts signed Mike Mitchell as a free agent on Oct. 9, the team knew it was getting a veteran who could step in and immediately fill several roles in the secondary if needed.
Perhaps the Colts couldn't have predicted, however, just what kind of ultimate leader and presence they were actually bringing into their building.
Over the next few weeks, Mitchell would become an immediate resource for the younger Colts defensive backs who were looking for any sort of way they could elevate their game, whether it was changing up how they study film or making tweaks to their practice habits.
But Mitchell also became a key playmaker for the Colts on the field, helping lead the team from a 1-4 record at the time of his signing to wins in 10 of its next 12 games to not only earn a spot in the playoffs, but advance to Saturday's Divisional Round matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Mitchell will have to continue leading from the meeting room and the sidelines from this point on, however, as the team announced today that Mitchell, who exited last Saturday's Wild Card Round victory over the Houston Texans with a calf injury, has been placed on injured reserve. In a corresponding move, the team promoted safety Rolan Milligan to the active roster from the practice squad.
The Colts also signed defensive end Anthony Winbush to take Milligan's spot on the practice squad.
Mitchell didn't take long at all to make an impact on the Colts' defense; in fact, he found himself starting at safety in the team's Week 6 matchup against the New York Jets just five days after he was signed. His seven tackles that day in the Colts' 42-34 road loss proved he was able to handle just about any task thrown his way.
The next week, Mitchell properly introduced himself to Colts fans with a masterful performance in the team's 37-5 home victory over the Buffalo Bills, finishing with seven tackles (all solo), a forced fumble and an interception. For his efforts, Mitchell was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career.
"He's just savvy," Colts head coach Frank Reich said of Mitchell on Oct. 24. "I mean, just savvy and plays hard. Just seems to be in the right spot at the right time. Is disciplined, you know that's really what we look for is when a guy can be savvy and instinctive but yet play with discipline. He's just a real pro and he shows that."
Mitchell would continue to play well as a spot starter and key piece of depth in the Colts' secondary. In eight games with four starts in the regular season, he finished with 28 tackles (22 solo) with one interception, one pass defensed and two forced fumbles.
Mitchell had collected two tackles in last week's Wild Card victory over the Texans before suffering his calf injury on a scramble play by Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson in the third quarter.
Mitchell tweeted this after the game: "Thank you to everyone for you thoughts, messages and prayers. I'm up and walking not sure the extent [of] the injury, will know more tomorrow. God is still good in victory, defeat or injury. I'm grateful for your support And excited for another great team win!"
The Colts have another veteran midseason free agent acqusition at safety who could possibly fill in for Mitchell if healthy. J.J. Wilcox, who signed with Indianapolis on Dec. 18, has appeared in 77 games with 39 starts over his six-year NFL career, including two games played with the Colts late in the regular season. He finished with two tackles each on defense and on special teams.
Wilcox was initially listed as doubtful for last Saturday's game against the Texans with an ankle injury, but was upgraded to questionable on Friday. He was, however, on the inactives list for the game itself, though he was estimated to be a full participant if the team had held a full practice on Tuesday.
Milligan, 5-10, 200 pounds, has spent time on the Colts' active roster and practice squad this season. He also spent time on the Detroit Lions practice squad earlier this season. Milligan participated in the Lions' 2018 offseason program and training camp before being waived during final cuts on September 1. In 2017, he spent time on Detroit's active roster and practice squad but did not see game action. Milligan participated in the Dallas Cowboys' 2016 offseason program and training camp before being waived on August 16, 2016.
He was originally signed by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent on May 9, 2016.