The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Stephon Tuitt
Position: Defensive End
Experience: 2 Years
Though the Steelers drafted Stephon Tuitt in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, it almost seemed as though they always talked about him as if he were an additional first-round pick with the addition of Ryan Shazier, whom they actually drafted in the first round that year.
And perhaps they weren’t so far off. Had circumstances been different, he very likely figures to have been a first-round draft pick. Following a dominating 2012 college season as a true sophomore, Tuitt had his struggles his junior year through injury, which included him adding weight, and then he declared for the draft.
Had he not battled injuries in his final collegiate season, or had he gone back for his senior year, he likely increases his draft stock to become a first-rounder. But he didn’t, and now the Steelers are prospering because of it after the young man’s maturation in his second season.
It would be hard to dispute the fact that Tuitt is already more developed than was Cameron Heyward, the team’s 2011 first-round draft pick as the same position—defensive end—at this point in their respective careers, even if Heyward was stuck playing behind Pro Bowl-caliber players.
Tuitt entered the starting lineup in the final quarter of his rookie season, quite a rarity for Steelers defenders, and he made significant, major strides in year two, recording 6.5 sacks, just for starters, which was second on the team and just a half-sack behind Heyward, in spite of the fact that he actually missed two games with an ankle injury.
But the 22-year old—he’s still 22 in spite of the fact that he has played two entire professional seasons—took a tremendous step forward in the run game, which had not been recognized as much as it should have. There were several games in which he seemed at times unblockable against the run.
Admittedly, being still very young and no doubt somewhat learning on the fly, Tuitt has been prone to making a mistake here and there that has allowed opposing offenses to take advantage of him in isolated incidences, but said incidence will only become more infrequent with the more experience that he generates.
Already a remarkable physical specimen, Tuitt still has plenty of room to grow mentally and in terms of his craft. And the Steelers should be rather excited about his potential, which could put him past Heyward one day.