As the Pittsburgh Steelers enter their bye week, a quick look at the team snap counts after the first 11 games reveals that rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt has seen the field on defense 143 times. That might be fine if Tuitt’s snap were on the rise over the course of the last four games, but that’s not happening. In fact, Tuitt’s snaps have decreased every week for four straight weeks.
“I want to get him between 25 and 30 plays,” Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell told David Todd of ESPN 970 Radio of Tuitt last week. “But in the National Football League you get players in the game, you get into sync, they get in the groove, they get in their zone and it’s hard to get them off the field. Now, I mean it’s really hard, but that’s my responsibility. I got to do a better job. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Stephon Tuitt, I just got to get him in the game.”
That interview was done prior to the Monday night game against the Tennessee Titans and in that game Tuitt played all of four snaps. That was the second fewest amount of snaps he’s played all season. So much for Mitchell doing a better job of getting the rookie into the game.
So why so few snaps Monday night? The only thing I can figure is that Mitchell and the rest of the coaching staff couldn’t find a way to get Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward off the field enough after Cam Thomas took over for rookie Daniel McCullers at nose tackle. McCullers played 13 snaps in the base defense Monday night so that meant that Thomas played 13 snaps at nose tackle and another 11 at defensive end. A good chunk of those 11 snaps at defensive end should’ve went to Tuitt, in my opinion.
After the bye, the Steelers should get nose tackle Steve McLendon back from his shoulder injury. What will that mean for Tuitt and Thomas at that point? Will Thomas be primarily used as a back up nose tackle moving forward? If he isn’t and his snaps aren’t decreased, there’s no way that Tuitt will see the field much more than he currently is.
Thomas is hurting this defense when he plays at defensive end and Mitchell pretty much admitted to Todd last week that the former San Diego Chargers defensive lineman has had problems adjusting to the 5-technique position this season.
It’s not really like Tuitt can play much worse than Thomas has this season, so Mitchell indeed needs to do a better job of getting the second-round draft pick on the field more after the bye.