When the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 season gets underway, second-year defensive end Stephon Tuitt will only be 22 years-old. And while the Notre Dame product and former second-round draft pick had a few struggles during his rookie season in the 405 snaps that he played, fellow defensive end Cameron Heyward said Wednesday that he believes Tuitt will be a better player in 2015 thanks to that playing time that he received.
“I expect a lot from Tuitt (in 2015) because he’s been in certain situations that most rookies don’t get to be in,” Heyward said, according to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He started a playoff game for us, he helped accomplish winning the AFC North; he’s been in dogfights.
“I think for me, I was behind guys like Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel (as a rookie) where they were the guys going through dogfights. If they weren’t playing, then I would get probably have gotten my opportunity. But we’re expecting Tuitt to be ready to go from Game 1 (in 2015).”
The Steelers will be forced to start Tuitt opposite Heyward this upcoming season now that they’ve moved on from veteran defensive end Brett Keisel and that more than likely was the plan all along when they drafted him.
Due to Tuitt being so young and inexperienced coming out of college following his junior season, Heyward noted Wednesday that his teammate “was like a chicken with his head cut off” when he was initially thrown into the defense as a rookie.
Heyward obviously speaks from experience as he too looked like a fish out of water during the 247 snaps that he played during his rookie season. Heyward did, however, show improvement during his second season even though he only managed to log 267 snaps of playing time.
Most of Tuitt’s problems last season came against the run and that’s one area where the Steelers front seven definitely needs to improve in 2015. As a point of reference, the Steelers allowed 4.41 yards per rush last season when Tuitt was on the field as opposed to 4.28 yards when he wasn’t playing.
“If you don’t stop the run in the National Football League, you aren’t going to have the chance to get sacks,” said Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell during the 2015 NFL Draft. “Good football teams are physical and play well at the point and stop the run. That’s what I tell my guys.
“When we stop the run we’ve got enough in our arsenal, to put pressure on the quarterback. You look, in the National Football League, look at teams that have a lot of sacks and a lot of those teams didn’t make the playoffs because they couldn’t stop the run.”
Mitchell, like Heyward, believes that Tuitt will make a jump during his second season in the league.
“I have a player in the NFL, and he makes his jump from his first year to his third year, and you hope his second year that he is a lot better football player,” said Mitchell of Tuitt’s development. “If you notice here, the last 10 or 12 years, we have had players that have made that jump from the time they started as a first-year guy, a rookie, or a sophomore guy that made that jump to become a better football player.
“I think his maturity and being around good football players, understanding what we are asking him to do, I think he is going to be a better football player because he’s here right now. I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with him again.”
Tuitt’s progress and work with Mitchell will continue on the practice field starting next week as that’s when the Steelers first of three OTA sessions gets underway. Tuitt ought to also be in great shape if you believe his trainer, former NFL defensive lineman Chuck Smith, who last month said that the young Steelers defensive end is like a “volcano that’s about to erupt” in 2015.