The Pittsburgh Steelers managed to secure their first victory on the scoreboard during the 2015 preseason last afternoon, but when all was said and done, both participants certainly came off the field worse for wear.
For their part, the Steelers had three players leave the field with injuries, including two starters. All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey’s was the worst, as his left leg got caught under a safety making the tackle on a running play for which he was out in front blocking.
Second-year defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who is being expected to step into a critical role this season, was also forced to leave the field after suffering a left lower leg injury, which appears to be an ankle injury of some description that will have him sidelined for at least a couple of weeks.
The sudden absence of Tuitt from the lineup seemed instantaneously to raise fears in the collective minds of all those watching over the Steelers’ depth along the defensive line, which just two seasons ago boasted a good deal of talent.
The Steelers underwent quite a bit of turnover along the defensive line last season because of this, which resulted in the team relying upon free agent signing Cam Thomas to enter the starting lineup at defensive end for essentially the first three quarters of the season.
It was only after a season-ending injury for Brett Keisel that the Steelers took the opportunity to make the switch in the starting lineup, but until Tuitt returns, Thomas figures to be plugged back in the role that he filled to such ‘rave’ reviews a year ago.
Of course, Thomas lost his starting job, which was always intended to be temporary, for good reason, as he certainly struggled far more often than he found success. But as this preseason has shown, he has made strides since then.
Thomas can do much to allay fears over the defensive line depth by playing well at defensive end during the last two preseason games. It will be especially important because that will be his primary role during the regular season when everybody is healthy and because he had been working almost exclusively at nose tackle prior to that.
After we get past Thomas, however, is where the real questions start. Even Clifton Geathers, who was presumed to possibly unseat Thomas for a roster spot, was no known solution before he was placed on injured reserve.
The frontrunner for the sixth roster spot seems to be rookie sixth-rounder L.T. Walton, who has shown great athleticism and motor, even while showing the need for growth in many areas. There are a few other candidates, none of whom are overly inspiring, headed by Ethan Hemer.
One might wonder if the Steelers could be tracking the progress of two of their former players, Josh Mauro and Nick Williams, both of whom were on the practice squad last season before being picked up by other teams. Both are on the roster bubble with their current teams. Should they become available, will the Steelers claim one of them back?