The Pittsburgh Steelers already were faced with the task of weathering a two-game storm in which they were forced to play without their defensive captain and leader, defensive end Cameron Heyward. Now they will be asked to play the rest of the season without him, and that is going to place a tremendous burden on third-year defensive end Stephon Tuitt as a result.
He knows that as well as anybody, and he understands that his role is going to have to evolve as a result of the inevitable change. Tuitt, who just recorded his first sack of the season on Sunday against the Cowboys, talked to Mike Prisuta yesterday about what sort of changes might be in store for him going forward through the final for games of the season without Heyward on the other end.
Prisuta Tweeted yesterday that Tuitt said his “role will be different” without Heyward, quoting the defensive end as saying, “I’m going to mix it up a little bit. I’m going to be expanding my role, moving a lot more”.
Tuitt says role will be different w/o Heyward: “I’m going to mix it up a little bit. I’m going to be expanding my role, moving a lot more.”
— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) November 16, 2016
With Heyward on the field, Tuitt is typically free to draw a lot less complex of a role, with fewer responsibilities or complicated assignments, which lets his play freer and rely upon his natural abilities, because Heyward was there to execute the nuanced part of the schemes. It has overall been a rewarding pairing, with the veteran more than willing and able to carry out his role.
Now, Tuitt is going to have to take on the leadership role of the defensive line as the elder stateman of the group and the most experienced of the bunch, even though he is only three months and change younger than rookie Javon Hargrave as the youngest member of the current group of defensive linemen.
Remember, of course, that as a 2014 second-round draft pick, Tuitt declared for the draft as a junior, and was only 20 at the time that he was drafted, though he turned 21 in May soon after. He is still just 23 years old, as is Hargrave, who turned 23 in February before the draft.
So now Tuitt finds himself in a sort of leadership position because he is the most talented and experienced of the group, in spite of the fact that he is the youngest of all. And as Alex Kozora has noted, they have already been running the proverbial wheels off of him, not trusting to take him off the field.
But now the likes of Hargrave, Ricardo Mathews, L.T. Walton, and even Daniel McCullers will have to play a bigger role in the defense for the remainder of the season, and they are going to have to fall in line between Tuitt.
We can probably expect to see the Steelers start to use Tuitt in ways that they have being using Heyward, who, as he hinted at in his comments, they actually did move around some, both before and after the snap. Tuitt’s assignments have been mostly vanilla in comparison, but the circumstances dictate that his role must evolve.