The Pittsburgh Steelers afforded rookie Stephon Tuitt the opportunity to make his first career start on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, and he made the most of that chance by hardly leaving the field. He logged 57 of the team’s 65 defensive snaps, which was the most by a defensive lineman in the game, and two more than that of Cameron Heyward.
Coming into the game, Tuitt had never taken 30 snaps in any single game during his rookie season, despite being active and logging time in every one of them. Only three times prior to his first start did he log 20 or more snaps. He only logged 15 or more snaps in half of his first 12 games.
With that in mind, it’s worth considering how significant that snap count is, in addition to the fact that he played nearly 90 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in the contest. His previous career-high in that regard was 50 percent, which came the week before against the New Orleans Saints.
In that game, he played 51 percent of the snaps, most coming after the season-ending injury suffered by Brett Keisel, logging what was then a career-high 29 snaps. If we learned nothing else from this performance, we can at least take away that his much-touted motor also has the endurance to last a game, despite limited work prior to now.
And while he didn’t have a particularly significant impact on the game, it would be fair to say that his performance overall was solid, and largely mistake-free, at least of the variety that he had been making on occasion, particularly in the running game.
On an early third and short carry, for example, the Bengals used just three linemen around the ball across from Heyward and Tuitt as the two down linemen. While he did not make the stop himself, he did his job by holding his gap and sliding over as the run came his way on top of the pile.
The biggest hurdle for a rookie defensive lineman, particularly a 3-4 lineman in a scheme such as the one run by the Steelers, is simply learning the proper techniques and responsibilities of playing the position.
There were some obvious signs of a learning curve in previous games, but experience seems to have done Tuitt some good, as he seemed to be in the right place more often than not during the team’s blowout victory.
Admittedly, he didn’t get much done in the pass rush, but teams rarely do with Andy Dalton’s quick releases. He did trip of Jason Campbell on a third down late in the game to assure that the Bengals would punt, and he was also at Dalton’s heels on Heyward’s sack.
Naturally, there is still plenty of room for improvement in Tuitt’s game, but his first start provides a solid foundation to build from. Presumably, that is what the Steelers have in mind for the remainder of the season.