Mikell Makes His Way

Posted Aug 23, 2011


Upon signing a lucrative four-year contract with the Rams on July 29, safety Quintin Mikell and his wife Cherie stopped to reflect on how far they had come.

Once an under recruited prep star, Mikell became a two-time All Western Athletic Conference selection and its Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

Still, that wasn’t enough to land him a draft position and he went unpicked in the 2003 NFL Draft. In signing with Philadelphia, Mikell worked his way on to the team through his special teams ability and slowly but surely worked his way into a starting role.

When he finally became a starter, Mikell developed into a Pro Bowler. Finally ready to hit the open free agent market, he became one of the most sought after players available.

“Me and my wife we talked about it and it was very emotional because it was a long, hard road,” Mikell said. “It’s not over yet but it definitely was a lot of heartache, a lot of ups and downs feeling like you should be playing and doing a whole bunch of different things. To finally feel appreciated was probably the biggest thing. I’m not saying I wasn’t appreciated in Philly but to feel like I was wanted once I hit the open market, it was perfect.”

Clearly, nobody appreciated Mikell more than the Rams and head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who was one of the first to recognize Mikell’s potential as his position coach in 2003.

After waiting out the completion of the collective bargaining agreement, the Rams went into free agency with their list of priority free agents, the players they absolutely had to have on the team.

Perched atop the list was the former Boise State Bronco, who at 30 was coming off his two best seasons in the league and was an undeniable fit in the Rams’ defense after the departure of Oshiomogho Atogwe to Washington.

“I always thought Quintin was an aggressive guy, loved to play the game of football,” Spagnuolo said. “I love the way he has blitzed. He’s a little bit older than he was when I had him. I had him as a rookie but I still think he is a productive player.”

Indeed, Mikell was widely regarded as a premium free agent because his most productive years have been so recent.

Mikell went to the Pro Bowl following the 2009 season after he posted 90 tackles, 13 passes defended and two interceptions. Oddly enough, he did not go last year despite bettering that performance with 111 tackles, 14 passes defended, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
For his career, Mikell has 444 tackles, four sacks, 46 passes defended, 10 interceptions, seven forced fumble and seven fumble recoveries.

In other words, Mikell is the complete package at safety, capable of coming up to help in run support or run the alley on the back end and cover.

Mikell’s physical style and knowledge of the basic concepts of the Rams’ defense, combined with his production, made him a logical fit in St. Louis.

“I feel like I was molded for this defense in a way,” Mikell said. “I can move around, I can cover, I can let the corners play, I can play man to man, I can (help) coach. I can do a lot of different things. I think I am just the rounded player for it.”

Indeed, Mikell has fit right in, stepping in at the free safety position though in the Rams’ scheme the safeties are essentially interchangeable parts that are asked to do a lot of the same things.

Of course, it’s been a while since Mikell and Spagnuolo have worked together so while Mikell knows the general idea of the defense, there has been somewhat of a learning curve at the same time because Spagnuolo has spent years taking pieces from various stops and sprinkling them into the system.

“(He fit in) very well,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s taken a leadership role. The system is new for him, even though parts of it are similar. It’s still new, some of the terminology has changed, so he is getting used to it. He has stepped up and been a real leader.”
Mikell believes that Spagnuolo’s alterations to the defense he knew in Philadelphia have made his adjustment to the Rams a little slower but at the same time, he says he really understands why those changes were made.

“I feel like it’s definitely progressed,” Mikell said. “I think Spags took all of the little holes and inconsistencies with the defense and plugged them,  so little things I have done in Philly all these years I am still doing and kind of like ‘why am I not doing it anymore?’ Now it’s starting to make sense to me, why we changed certain things.”

Mikell’s presence on the field was felt right away, well right away after he was finally allowed to practice following the week-long embargo on letting free agents practice with their new teams.

Plugged right into the starting lineup, Mikell has been a standout in practice with the way he seems to move all over the field and he’s mastered the art of hiding his pre-snap responsibility.

“I think he’s very smart,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “In the couple weeks I have played against him he does a great job of holding disguises. It’s really tough to get a beat on him on what he’s doing out there. I think he does a great job of mixing it up. Showing you…he’s going one way and then coming back or just showing you the original look and staying with it, I think that does a lot. Then when he blitzes it seems like he gets there in a hurry. He could be blitzing out of the secondary but it seems to be that if we don’t account for him he gets there in a second.”

Mikell’s impact has been immediately felt in the locker room as much as it has on the field.

In adding Mikell, the Rams got not only a veteran with a lot of experience but a veteran with a lot of experience winning.

Going back to his four years at Boise State and his eight years in the NFL, Mikell’s teams have gone a combined 117-58-1, which comes out to a win in almost two out of every three games.

For a team with as many young players as the Rams, having someone with that type of knowledge of what it takes to win is even more important.

“I think that’s part of the reason I am here,” Mikell said. “No matter where I have been, even in college, we always won games. I think the biggest thing is it starts during the week, it starts in practice. It starts with the little things; things that you might not think are important, things like tucking your jerseys in and stuff like that. Those are little things that might seem like something small but it creates discipline. I think that’s what it takes to win in this game… I think that’s what I bring to the table and that’s what I have learned in all my years of playing football.”

An aficionado of cartoons – Mikell collects Dragonball Z videotapes – and a skilled dancer, Mikell knows when to keep it light and when to press his foot to the pedal.

In his short stint in St. Louis, he’s already become a leader for the younger guys on the defense and believes he’s surrounded by a lot of players who haven’t yet received credit for their skills.

Nobody knows better than Mikell the struggle required to finally earn that attention. But he also knows better than anyone that when it finally comes, the taste is even sweeter. 

“It makes you look at the whole game completely different,” Mikell said. “When you have to work for everything you get, it makes you appreciate what you have and makes you realize if I don’t keep working there will be somebody else who is going to outwork me so I think that really kind of taught me early on that to be able to play this game is a gift.”