The Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt a significant blow when defensive end Brett Keisel was lost for the season with a torn triceps that he suffered on the bottom of a pile during the team’s 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
That blow, of course, comes as much from an emotional standpoint as it does a schematic one, as well as Keisel may have been playing this season, especially in comparison to the rest of the defensive line.
It seemed quite possible that 2013 may have been Keisel’s last season before the Steelers re-signed him late in the preseason. He returned to Pittsburgh in a reserve role, despite often playing the majority of snaps in games, as well as starting a few times when the defense opened up in the nickel.
It’s becoming harder and harder to imagine that 2014 won’t be his last, now that he has a significant injury from which to rehabilitate, and no guarantee that he will see both years of his two-year deal, a la Flozell Adams and others. Even if he chooses to attempt to play another season, it may be difficult for him to find a suitor.
Now that he is no longer an integral part of the Steelers 2014 football squad, however, the Steelers are tasked with finding a way to replace an awful lot of defensive line statistics. On the year, he has played 451 snaps for Pittsburgh, or over 60 percent of the entire snaps taken on defense.
The Steelers signed former 2010 draft selection Clifton Geathers—younger brother of Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers—to fill Keisel’s roster spot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will come in right away and start logging a significant amount of playing time.
Geathers is now on his eighth different team in his career, including his second of the 2014 season after having been signed by the Redskins during the offseason in a reserve capacity. He played in six games before being released a month ago.
It seems likely that the majority of Keisel’s snaps will be passed on to Stephon Tuitt, the Steelers’ rookie second-round draft pick, who has struggled to find the field in recent years. He was likely slated for a much bigger role in his rookie season before the team re-signed Keisel late in the proceedings.
Tuitt logged a career-high 29 snaps against the Saints. That was the first time that he logged 25 or more snaps, and only the third time that he played more than 20 snaps, despite playing in every game.
Just two weeks ago, in the Steelers’ last game, in fact, Tuitt only played four snaps. Seven of his 12 games have seen in log 15 snaps or less, with four of them coming in single digits. In all, he’s played only 172 snaps, or just 23 percent of the defense’s total snaps.
He’ll have little choice but to take on a bigger role now as, presumably, the third defensive end on the depth chart. It’s true that he has struggled, particularly against the run—providing an example of why John Mitchell doesn’t like to play rookies—but he’s likely entering a trial by fire whether he likes it or not.