The Steelers defense suffered a huge loss on Sunday, as defensive end Stephon Tuitt was lost, likely for the season, in the midst of a potential career season.
The plan to replace him involves utilizing veteran backup Tyson Alualu and more of nose tackle Javon Hargrave in sub packages as the Steelers did on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.
But Tuitt’s loss will be difficult to overcome. For one, no one on the Steelers roster has his combination of size and athleticism.
“He is 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds and he runs like a deer,” defensive line coach Karl Dunbar summed up on Tuesday.
Not only that, Tuitt seemed to have reached another level his play this season.
“He could have played in the Pro Bowl,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “We call him the mustang for a reason. He is trouble for a lot of people inside. We have some guys that will back him up and come in a play for him, but it is tough losing that type of guy on the interior. Other people have to pick up the slack.”
The Steelers replenished their depth on Tuesday by bringing back veteran backup L.T. Walton on Tuesday. Walton knows the Steelers’ system, but hasn’t played in it since 2018. Sixth-round rookie Isaiah Buggs has yet to play in a game.
That means that most of the replacing is going to fall to Alualu, a former first-round draft pick that has been a solid rotational player for the Steelers, but hasn’t been a regular starter since his final season in Jacksonville in 2016.
“Tyson made some great plays in the game,” Dunbar said. “You really love to see that guy that can come in and play left end, nose tackle and right end. He was our utility guy who can come in and play nose tackle, left end and right end. He was our utility guy and now he becomes a staple at left defensive end.”
Alualu has the pedigree and he’s shown flashes in limited chances with the Steelers. He’s also filled in well for Tuitt before. In 2017, he made five starts after a pair of injuries hobbled Tuitt in the early part of the season.
He responded with four sacks and seven tackles for loss — both career highs. That’s the kind of performance the Steelers will need once again if they’re going to avoid a big drop off in production with Tuitt out.
“It is always tough when you lose a good football player,” Dunbar said. “We just have to go with the next man up mentality.”
Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp
There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.
“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”
Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.
NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North
It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.
But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.
NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.
“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 25, 2021
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”
Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.
NFL Head Coach: Bud Dupree’s Injury Cause for Uncertainty Entering Free Agency
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is set to hit free agency in a matter of weeks, but one head coach believes he could be waiting a while to sign.
Speaking with FanSided’s Matt Lombardo, an NFL head coach, speaking anonymously, said Dupree’s season-ending knee injury has made his free agency outlook uncertain.
“Bud Dupree is someone that is a real question mark for me,” the head coach told FanSided. “If he was healthy, he’s easily the top pass-rusher hitting the open market, and teams would pay a king’s ransom to sign him. But, with him coming off a torn ACL, what exactly are you committing to? Does he want to go back to Pittsburgh? Who knows, but he’s someone that I think will wind up having to wait a while to sign.”
Lombardo compares Dupree’s situation to Tennessee Titans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney last offseason.
While he had not suffered a significant injury the season prior with the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, Clowney signed with Tennessee on just a one-year, $12-million deal. He had been expected to be paid handsomely on a lengthier contract, which obviously did not come to fruition.
Clowney was virtually invisible for the Titans, recording no sacks in eight games before being placed on injured reserve in November.
Due to his torn ACL, Dupree could find himself having to settle on a cheaper, one-year “prove it” deal as well. Ideally he would then cash in during the 2022 free agency period is all goes as planned.
Dupree was having another stellar season before tearing his ACL in the Steelers’ Week 12 win over the Baltimore Ravens. He had eight sacks, eight tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits and a pair of forced fumbles through eleven games.
After playing last season under the franchise tag, which paid Dupree $15.828 million, the Steelers’ dire salary cap situation will most likely prevent them from bringing him back. Still, the brass of the organization has expressed their desire to do so if circumstances were different.
While the knee injury remains a concern, Dupree shared he was ahead of schedule in his recovery when he joined NFL Network’s Good Morning Football late last month.