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Seattle Seahawks sign veteran free-agent defensive tackle Earl Mitchell; Ziggy Ansah cleared to practice

UPDATED: Wed., July 24, 2019

San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Earl Mitchell  plays during  against the Arizona Cardinals on  Oct. 28, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (Rick Scuteri / AP)
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Earl Mitchell plays during against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 28, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (Rick Scuteri / AP)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – There was good news for the Seahawks’ defensive line, as well as a notable tight end, as players reported for training camp on Wednesday.

But there was also one piece of news that indicated it may still take a little while to sort out the team’s safety position.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the team’s moves on the day before the first training camp practice on Thursday.

• Seattle signed defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, a 10-year veteran who will be asked to help replace some of the snaps that will need to be filled during the first six games when Jarran Reed has to serve a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

• The Seahawks placed safety Lano Hill, who had hip surgery in January, on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Hill can come off the list at any time, but that he is on it means he is obviously not ready to hit the practice field after having also sat out all of the team’s offseason program. Hill has been expected to compete for the starting strong safety position after starting the final two games of last season at that spot alongside Bradley McDougald.

• Hill, though, was the only player to go on the PUP list, meaning players such as defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah and tight end Will Dissly – who also each had surgeries last season and were out or limited during the offseason program – will practice on at least a limited basis. Each figures to be limited early on, but the news would appear to mean each is on the hoped-for track in their recovery.

The signing of Michell and the news regarding Ansah each take some of the sting out of the revelation earlier this week that Reed has been suspended for the first six games of the regular season.

Ansah had shoulder surgery last year after dealing with an injury throughout much of what turned out to be his final season with Detroit. There had been speculation that he might begin camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Instead, Ansah will be on the active roster and able to take part in practice. But as the NFL Network reported, and as had been expected, Ansah will be “limited” early on as he rebuilds strength in his shoulder.

Still, not starting on the PUP list is an indication that things have progressed as hoped during the offseason. But Ansah also may not play much in early preseason games, if at all, as the team’s main goal is here to make sure he is ready for the start of the regular season – and that means also making it through the preseason healthy while showing he has full strength in the shoulder.

Ansah was signed to a one-year contract with $6 million guaranteed and another $3 million in roster bonuses, expected to do much of the work replacing the 13 sacks compiled last season by Frank Clark, who was later traded to Kansas City when the team decided not to sign him to a long-term contract.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in June he couldn’t put a set date on when Ansah would be ready.

“We’re going to wait. … We’ll just see when camp comes,” Carroll said. “We’ll take the camp to get it done though, I’m sure. I don’t think we’ll rush him when there won’t be a need to start him up right out of the chutes and we’ll see how it goes in the weeks to follow.”

Ansah had surgery to repair a torn labrum after playing just seven games last season. He played the 2018 season on a franchise tag paying him $17.14 million, but concerns over his health meant he was still available for Seattle to sign in May and for a deal that might not pay him more than roughly half of what he made a year ago.

As for Mitchell, he was a logical choice for Seattle to bring in to help replace Reed during the six games he will miss.

The Seahawks know Mitchell well, having brought him in for a visit in 2017 before he signed with the 49ers, and then again this offseason.

Mitchell, who played in college at Arizona, will turn 32 on Sept. 25. He played his first four seasons with Houston and three with Miami before spending the past two in San Francisco. He has 6 1/2 sacks in 130 career games.

Mitchell played 363 snaps for the 49ers last season, then became an unrestricted free agent when the team declined an option on his contract.

Mitchell will likely be asked mostly to play on early run downs. He was judged to have a 74% success rate on run stop attempts last year by Football Outsiders, not far off Poona Ford’s 76% and better than the 71% of last year’s other defensive tackle starter, Shamar Stephen.

Ford is expected to start at one tackle spot with someone else now needing to step in for the six games Reed will miss.

Mitchell will join that competition, which will also include veteran free-agent signees Al Woods and Jamie Meder, sixth-round pick Demarcus Christmas and undrafted free agents Bryan Mone and Jay-Tee Tiuli (Eastern Washington University). Third-year veteran Naz Jones might also factor in, though the team has said it would play him more this year at end. However, Seattle often uses its ends inside on pass downs. Quinton Jefferson is also listed as a tackle but last year played primarily end, while often shifting inside in pass downs.

Reed played 78% of the team’s snaps last year, the most of any defensive lineman. But Seattle is likely to go with more situational use of its tackles during the six games Reed will miss rather than asking any one player to take on the same role as did Reed.

Seattle will also likely continue to explore other free-agent options as training camps unfold around the NFL.

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