2017 South Side Questions: Will Defense Be Down Two More Starters?

The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments for as long as they push on through the postseason, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: Will the Steelers be down two more starters on Sunday with yesterday’s injuries to Artie Burns and Stephon Tuitt? Will their depth be enough?

So much for getting healthy during the bye.

According to reports, neither cornerback Artie Burns nor Stephon Tuitt were able to finish practice yesterday in their first on-the-record session of the postseason, where an injury report is required. Burns suffered a knee injury, though reportedly there is no ligament damage. Tuitt suffered an upper body injury that left him in a sling.

Until we learn more, we really don’t know whether or not either or both of these players will suit up for Sunday’s game against the Jaguars. Burns has never missed a game due to injury in his career, though Tuitt has had a few bouts, including during the first half of the season, suffering an arm injury on the second play of the opener.

The Steelers did work toward bolstering the depth at both of these position during the offseason. If Tuitt does not play, then obviously Tyson Alualu will start in his place, as he did earlier in the season. Alualu actually recorded more sacks than did Tuitt, though that should not be mistaken as saying he is nearly the same in terms of playing the pass rush. But he has been a very solid spot starter for the unit this season.

Replacing Burns is somewhat more complicated, even if, allegedly, the team was toying with rotating or even benching him three weeks ago in Houston, a report that I personally never bought into. But after Joe Haden returned to practice, Cameron Sutton did take some first-team reps in Burns’ spot.

It’s clear that the rookie third-round pick, who started one game and played in two others filling in for Haden on the left side, would be the answer to start for Burns on the right, should he miss the game. The Jaguars are not typically regarded as an explosive passing team, but they wouldn’t look beyond targeting a weak spot.

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