Even though he had only ever played for one team in his professional career prior to signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017 as an unrestricted free agent, change was far from a new phenomenon for veteran defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, who started several games due to injury and rest last season.
The former 2010 first-round draft pick signed a two-year contract worth $6 million to provide what proved to be extremely valuable veteran depth for the defensive end positions. The decision was made a year after Cameron Heyward missed the majority of the 2016 season. A year later, Stephon Tuitt would miss several games and play all but two snaps with an impairing injury to his arm.
After adapting to an entirely new team a year ago, learning from a new position coach this season under Karl Dunbar feels like nothing. He went through about half of dozen of those—the same for head coaches—while he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars, anyway, so it has taught him a lot about being flexible.
“Being around a lot of changes, you know how to adapt to different coaching”, he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “That definitely helped the transition learning a new team and new defense and being around new players and new position coach these past two years”.
Alualu has been more than happy to fall in line with the likes of Heyward, Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave, the three players who make up the Steelers’ starting lineup along the defensive line when they line up in their now somewhat sparsely-used 3-4 front.
He is their fourth lineman, the first player off the bench and the one who gets rotated in most heavily. He played well over a third of the team’s snaps a year ago, just to give some perspective, though of course under normal circumstances, eliminating injury, it would not have been nearly so high.
But he is more than happy to contribute as much or as little as is asked of him, in large part because he has a great deal of respect for the players with which he finds himself surrounded, and the coaching that he gets to be around in Pittsburgh.
“When I came here, I knew that I was coming into a good group, so I was just excited to be part of that and try to help them do better because I know they do the same for me”, he said. “That group has exceeded my expectations as to who they were as people and players. So doing what I can to support them, it’s a good feeling”.
The hope is that Alualu sees the field only sparsely this season, and only as a means of spelling their healthy starters. But if I were the Steelers, I would have already talked to him about signing an extension, as he is going to be a free agent after this season ends.