Including the playoffs, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt played 1,116 (88%) and 990 (78.6%) total snaps respectively in 2015. Earlier this week, Heyward indicated in a locker room interview that he wouldn’t mind having a little help on the defensive line next season, according to Trib Live Radio.
“I think it can only help,” said Heyward. “Whether if we have L.T. Walton take another step, or Steve [McLendon], or Cam [Thomas], or whoever’s here. Or we go to the draft or we sign someone new, but I think it would be awesome to have a rotation because it keeps us fresh. We’ll play the plays, but it only helps when you see all these other teams have 8 or 9 d-linemen and they’re able to rotate and stay fresh. But that’s a tribute to me and Tuitt’s conditioning and the other guys who have stepped in for us, but that’s just the way we’re built.”
Heyward, by the way, played the 3rd highest percentage of snaps for a 3-4 defensive end in 2015, according to our very own Alex Kozora.
As for Walton, who the Steelers drafted this past year in the sixth-round, he only played 41 total defensive snaps in 2015 and that’s only because Tuitt missed some time with a knee sprain. However, now that he’s been with the team a full year, one would hope that his role will increase in 2016 which would allow Heyward and Tuitt to get a few more snaps off.
In addition to Walton, the Steelers appear to see something in defensive end Caushaud Lyons, who spent most of his rookie season on the team’s practice squad after being claimed off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just prior to start of the regular season. Lyons not being in Pittsburgh during training camp and the preseason certainly had him behind the 8-ball as far his development goes.
Generally, the Steelers only keep 6 defensive linemen on their 53-man roster every year and assuming nose tackle Steve McLendon is ultimately re-signed during the offseason, 4 of those 6 spots will already be spoken for with the likes of Heyward, Tuitt, McLendon and backup nose tackle Daniel McCullers. At some point during the 2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers might decide to draft another defensive lineman to compete against Walton and Lyons.
I know I would certainly like to see both Heyward and Tuitt get a little more rest next season and odds are probably pretty good that they will. We just don’t know who the player or players will be in that rotation just yet.