It certainly sounds good. But seeing is believing. The team repeated their hope to lower Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt’s snaps, something they’ve been trying to do for the past two years but haven’t been able to reliably execute.
This time around, it was John Mitchell expressing that desire. Specifically, lowering each of their snaps by 15 to 20 percent.
“I want Cam, I want Tuitt to play about 50 snaps a game,” he said in an interview with Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews. “I don’t want to play them 65 to 70 snaps per game. If you play them that many snaps, something bad is going to happen.”
To be fair, and accurate, both players finished around that number last year. Heyward averaged 52 snaps per game and Tuitt 54.5. There were some blowout victories that helped tamp those numbers down, in my mind, skewing the numbers. The Steelers didn’t so much as find a solution to their problem – quality depth – as they did by taking advantage of game circumstance.
Both of their averages dropped from 2015. Heyward average 61 snaps two years ago and Tuitt even more, finishing with 62.
Whether you view it as a need to reduce snaps or maintain that reduction, it will be critical for the two of them not to be overworked during the year. Heyward played an absurd amount of football in 2015, over 1100 meaningful snaps, and was hit with “something bad happens” fear from Mitchell, tearing his pec against the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. Factor in the playoffs for Tuitt and he nearly touched the 1000 snap threshold.
Simply put, over the past two years, each have played at least 1500 snaps, a big burden to bear for a pair of 300 pound men.
Mike Tomlin issued the call for someone else to step up in order to remove Heyward and Tuitt from the field. It’s why the team has been rotating in free agent defensive linemen over the course of three years: Cam Thomas, Ricardo Mathews, and now Tyson Alualu. Thomas proved to be woefully ineffective and Mathews a bit disappointing while dealing with an ankle injury for portions of the year.
There is optimism with L.T. Walton, who Mitchell praised in the Matthews’ interview. With Javon Hargrave proving he belongs in the NFL – funny enough, Mitchell still calls him “Hargrave, from South Carolina State” like he’s still a rookie – the team finally has plenty of options to get their two stars on the sidelines without seeing a massive drop off in talent.
“You can’t ask your two best players to pay 70 snaps every ball game. Their body is going to wear out,” Mitchell said.
Amen to that, Coach Mitch. Here’s to hoping that plan gets put into action.