The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft because they knew he would be a player that could help this team early, and eventually start. They probably weren’t counting on him working his way into the starting lineup as a rookie, but that’s what he has done.
Of course, it wasn’t a direct path into the starting lineup, and it came largely due to the season-ending injury to Brett Keisel, though he also subsequently leapfrogged Cam Thomas, now reduced to a rotational role, in the starting lineup.
On Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tuitt started his third straight game, and it would be fair to say that he had his biggest impact yet, recording his first career sack, as well as recording his first career forced fumble on separate plays.
He’s certainly still very much a rookie, but Tuitt has already shown that he can play well enough within the defense that the team can win with him as he learns some of the finer points of the job on the fly. After all, they have gone 3-0 since he entered the starting lineup.
The defense, in fact, even held the Chiefs to just 12 points on Sunday, only the third time all season an opponent was allowed to score less than 20 points on the year. It was a critical time, as well, as the offense only managed 20 points in front of their home crowd.
As a pass rusher, Tuitt certainly still has some development ahead of him, as he has a tendency to get stuck on a blocker and get turned around, despite his strong motor. But he does display the potential to be a quality pass rusher from the defensive end position in time. He had a strong effort working inside the right tackle on third and goal on the Chiefs’ opening drive, which ended in Cameron Heyward’s solo sack.
Tuitt frequently finds himself around the ball as long as he is playing with sound technique due to his relentless motor, and that is something that is going to lead to some plays being made down the line. His forced fumble on Jamaal Charles is an example of that.
Midway through the third quarter, on a second and seven play as the Chiefs were driving inside the Steelers’ 30-yard line, Tuitt bore down on an inside block and worked between two linemen as he saw Alex Smith throwing to his right for a screen. As Charles was funneled back inside, Tuitt landed a big hit that jarred the ball loose and the Steelers recovered, averting a scoring opportunity in what was at the time a 10-6 game.
As the game wore on, particularly following the fumble, it seemed as though Tuitt began to play with more confidence, and was becoming more successful getting push in the passing game. that culminated at last in a sack just before the two-minute warning in what was another example of good hustle from the true rookie starter on this defense.