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D-Line Injuries Proving Opportunities For Young Players

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive line is more than a little dinged up as we begin charting the waters of June. Which is a fine time to be nursing injuries, in comparison to September. With Cameron Heyward still working his way back from injury and Stephon Tuitt sidelined after having surgery recently, neither of their starting defensive ends are at full capacity right now, though Heyward is close.

We learned yesterday that second-year defensive tackle Javon Hargrave suffered a shoulder injury that from appearances seems to be minor, but we don’t know where he stands just yet and whether or not he will miss time. In addition to the aforementioned, free agent acquisition Tyson Alualu is also not participating in most OTA activities with a half injury.

As I alluded to at the top, this really isn’t such a big deal in May and June. In fact, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the likes of Daniel McCullers, L.T. Walton, and Johnny Maxey to get some quality opportunities for reps, working against the first-team offense at times no doubt, that they otherwise would not have gotten.

While I’m not entirely clear on the extent to which Heyward is participating—I have seen video of him engaging in individual drills, but I’m not sure if he has worked in teams—the Steelers have at least two of their top four defensive linemen not participating in Tuitt and Alualu, with Hargrave potentially being added to this list briefly as well.

The Steelers had no choice but to rest upon their depth down the stretch last season, and that was after already feeling the burden of being without Heyward for two games earlier in the year. The seventh-year veteran went down for the season after the bye week, and then Tuitt missed most of the last three games. Ricardo Mathews also missed time.

That meant there were a lot of reps to go around for Hargrave, Walton, and Maxey, all of whom showed improvement thanks to that. But the line needs them to get even better this year, particularly when it comes to being disruptive in the pocket on passing plays, so for Walton and Maxey, this is an opportunity to take full advantage of while it exists.

Let’s not forget, while Alualu is a very experienced player and a former starter, he is still new to this team, and he will need the reps in training camp and the preseason to get acclimated. So his being sidelined now is giving the young players time on the field and against the offense that they would have been watching instead of executing.

It is worth giving a mention as well to the likes of Lavon Hooks and Roy Philon, who are longshots to compete for the 53-man roster, potentially against McCullers. Both of them have been in camps with the Steelers before, but have not been able to make the team. Both, however, were brought back on futures contract in 2017.

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