End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: Stephon Tuitt
Position: Defensive End
Experience: 1 Year
The Pittsburgh Steelers exited the free agency period desperate for defensive ends after losing two of their own to sign elsewhere, and they were fortunate that a talent as promising as Stephon Tuitt was available for them to select in the middle of the second round of the 2014 draft.
Tuitt had his breakout college season as a true sophomore, and was slowed by injuries in his junior year, after which he declared. That decision perhaps cost him the chance to be drafted in the first round.
That worked out well for the Steelers, who they believe were able to acquire a top talent for a bargain—and one who played his entire rookie season at the age of 21, no less. Perhaps most remarkable is that, by season’s end, he was starting for the Steelers on defense, which very rarely happens.
Not that that doesn’t come with a caveat, of course. It’s not as though the team had an entrenched starter at the left defensive end position, which was occupied by free agent placeholder Cam Thomas. The move was made three quarters of the way into the season, and Tuitt started the final four games of the regular season, as well as the team’s playoff game.
Admittedly, his play at times did reflect his age and inexperience, and he certainly has some work to do this offseason as he prepares for a full season in a starting role. But he’s bound to get better and better as time goes on, and could develop into an excellent bookend across from Cameron Heyward in the near future.
He did show a wealth of potential during his rookie season—he would never have been put in the starting lineup if he hadn’t, regardless of the criticism of Thomas’ performance over the course of the season—but there’s certainly more to come. He did record a sack and forced a fumble, but he will develop a better feel for the pass rush, as well as the angles and leverage involved in defending the run.
If the Steelers are going to turn the defense around in 2015, there’s no question that Tuitt is going to be a huge part of that transition, along with fellow second-year likely defensive starter Ryan Shazier. These are the pieces that the team is counting on to come through for them in order to put Pittsburgh back into the championship conversation.