It has been the goal for several years now for the Pittsburgh Steelers to be able to have enough quality depth along the defensive line to allow Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt to get their rest during games, with the idea being that they would be preserved for late in the season.
With Tyson Alualu as the first player off the bench, and Daniel McCullers becoming the number five allowing Javon Hargrave to even see some snaps in a 3-4 front, the line has seen this plan come into action under new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
It was one of his stated goals coming in. But so far it’s not producing results. Between the two of them, they have just one sack, that recorded by Heyward in the season opener. McCullers also has one sack on the year.
“I think it will work in the future”, Heyward told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the planned rotation. “Obviously we’re not getting the results. It looks bad now, but I think it allows us to get more reps and stay fresh”. By more reps, he is referring to players such as Alualu, of course. Obviously he is not going to get more reps by taking fewer.
“I don’t need to play 80 plays a game”, he went on. Coach [Dunbar] said that from Day 1. Coach [Mike Tomlin] told me that — I don’t need to play 80 snaps. The name of the game is to stay fresh and stay fresh for the whole season and at the end of games”.
That may be the name of the game, but they have been losing their games under the name of a defensive rotation. And frankly, if they don’t win enough games now, they’re not going to need to be rested for later in the year.
Tuitt admitted that he is “not used to it at all. I’m used to being out there the whole entire time, me and Cam. But it gets to the point where you want guys to last long-term, especially long-term into the season”, as in the postseason, ideally.
Still, he offered that the Steelers have “good guys behind us that can play some really good snaps. it gives them an opportunity to get their legs and get into games and gives us a little break to go back in and do what we do”.
None of this will matter if they don’t start getting better results with the snaps that they do have on the field. Neither of them have been the consistent producers of pressure that they were last season—in Tuitt’s case, when closer to full health.