Reports out of Pittsburgh earlier this week allege that rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt will make his first career start against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, presumably over Cam Thomas, who may or may not end up starting at nose tackle, depending on the health of Steve McLendon.
It’s been difficult to gauge the development of the second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers because he’s seen such limited action in the majority of games this season. But after the season-ending injury to Brett Keisel, he’s poised to take on a larger role down the stretch of the final quarter of the regular season.
His 29 snaps against the New Orleans Saints, however, were a career-high, and accounted for about 17 percent of his total snaps on the year.
It’s difficult to draw many conclusions about how he will perform as he prepares for a starter, but his showing against the Saints certainly suggests that there are things to work on, particularly in recognizing what others around him are doing.
Tuitt came onto the field midway through the second quarter after the defense had given up a first down. The Steelers lined up in their base package, with Tuitt at left end and Keisel at right end, with Thomas at nose.
On the play, Drew Brees took a deep drop, but had nobody to throw to, as the two backs were forced to stay in to pick up the pressure. Tuitt continued to work off the edge, and Brees was flushed in that direction. The rookie ended up getting a hit on the quarterback as he threw the ball away.
A few plays later in the drive, the defense gave up a third straight rush of at least 13 yards, and Tuitt had a hand in giving it up. With Thomas double teamed and sealed from the inside, Tuitt allowed the right tackle to down block on his inside shoulder. With the linebackers behind unable to fill the hole, Mark Ingram found an easy lane to the safety level.
In contrast, Tuitt looked better to start the fourth quarter, flowing to his right on an interior run off left guard. While he didn’t make the tackle, he showed that he could be around the ball even when the play doesn’t come to him.
Two plays later, on Jason Worilds’ sack, Tuitt was lurking just around the corner, and perhaps even forced Brees to feel his edge pressure. He was there to support Thomas on a run stop for no gain two plays later.
Yet a few plays later, Tuitt was sucked inside on a play in which James Harrison, to his right, took a wide rush, which provided a huge hole off the right side of the defense and led to a 31-yard run. He was fooled by the line’s movement, not anticipating a cutback. Of course, he was just one of several issues on this run for the defense.