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2018 South Side Questions: Will Hargrave Still Have Nickel Role As Tuitt Returns?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.

How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will Javon Hargrave continue to see a higher volume of snaps in the nickel defense after Stephon Tuitt returns?

Stephon Tuitt’s absence over the course of the past two games proved to be a great opportunity for third-year defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who was awarded a great deal more playing time than he ordinarily receives. That included extended action in playing in the nickel defense, which has become the staple personnel around the league.

Hargrave has been playing some of the best football of his career in recent weeks, and that includes two and a half sacks over the past two game (personally, I thought the one from Sunday could have been awarded as a full sack). He has by now more than doubled his career sack total heading into 2018.

Of his 36 tackles on the season, in addition, 16 of them have come over the course of the past three games. 26 of his tackles on the season have been against the run, with 19 of them being stops for the defense. All three of his tackles against the run on Sunday were for stops.

Head Coach Mike Tomlin said last week after the Jaguars game that pushing him to play in the nickel and be effective was something that they were challenging him to do, and I think it would be fair to surmise that, by and large, he has been up to the challenge.

But with Tuitt seemingly on his way back, the question becomes how much more opportunity he will see in those situations. The team has paid lip service to the idea of using more of a rotation in the past, and it very frequently hasn’t actually surfaced.

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