There may be no bigger upgrade to a position from last season to this season than the left defensive end spot, even though the player on the field hasn’t changed for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Stephon Tuitt is entering his fifth season, and the second year of a long-term contract extension, but he knows this season will be much different from the last.
That’s because he only played a single snap during the 2017 season while healthy. He suffered a tear in his bicep on the second snap of the season opener, missing the remainder of that game, and the next two, before returning, albeit much weakened, playing through injury the rest of the year (he also missed time with a back injury).
According to Kevin Gorman, he is calling the 2018 season his “revenge tour”.
One that he hopes will very much follow the same path as Cameron Heyward’s. Tuitt’s veteran running mate suffered a season-ending injury in 2016 as the last in a string of injuries, but he returned in 2017 as good as ever, blowing past his career-high in sacks with 12, leading the team, while earning first-team All-Pro honors.
And one of the reasons that he believes he has it in him is because he learned from last season’s experiences, which has provided him with some perspective. “To be honest, I’m not upset about it”, he said about the injury and the ‘lost’ season.
“I’m not sad about it anymore because it made me a better man and made me a better football player”, Tuitt added. “It doesn’t matter the degree or what level it is, I had to overcome a situation more than just myself. It was bigger than myself. I played for my teammates”.
It was easy enough to tell by his statistics how much his injury affected him, after he had a great spring and summer, looking to be on the verge of a breakout year. The hope is that the breakout was merely delayed for a year, and ready to be unleashed now, Heyward and Tuitt combined to be the elite duo that they ought to be.
They are, after all, among the highest-paid players at their positions, and also the highest-paid duo, though only by a narrow margin over the Tennessee Titans’ Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones. Casey signed a four-year extension last year worth $60.4 million.
Tuitt told Gorman that he has “been looking forward to contact”, likening himself to a superhero who was knocked down, only to return and vanquish his enemies, to much fanfare of course.
He said that his arm is 100 percent healthy now after playing most of the 2017 season with one arm that was at well under half its usual strength. He was able to play, but it was difficult for him to get much push or separation from his injured arm. No doubt it also affected his ability to cleanly tackle.