If there has been one stumbling block in Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt’s career, it has been his inability to stay healthy for 16 games a season, much in contract to his battery mate, Cameron Heyward, who has played in all 16 games in seven of his eight seasons.
Tuitt, a former second-round pick in 2014, only played all 16 games during his rookie season that year, and he spent most of his time during that campaign serving as a rotational player, only moving into the starting lineup for the final four games of the season.
He had a career year the following season, posting what remains a career-high six and a half sacks, but even in that season he missed two games due to injury. He would miss two games the year after that, then four games—two separate injuries causing two games apiece—and then two more in 2018.
In other words, he has never played a full season healthy as a starter in his professional career. He is looking to change that in 2019, though he was not off to a roaring start after he sat out the first two weeks of OTAs, even if due to an abundance of caution.
But he did return to practice last week and has been participating in the team’s minicamp the past couple of days, so Missi Matthews asked him after practice yesterday about how he was holding up with the time off. “Body feels great”, he said.
“Especially, just took a little time off OTAs”, he added, “but to be out here in minicamp and to be out here with the guys, it’s fantastic for me, and also at the same time, very excited to be heading into the next season, just to be with the group of guys that is probably going to be here”.
Though the still missed games in 2018, it was one of his better seasons, including five and a half sacks and much better consistency in terms of making the plays that he was in position to make. That comes a year after he suffered the most significant injury of his professional career on the second play of the 2018 season.
Matthews later asked Tuitt how he would spend his time between tomorrow and the start of training camp. “Really, it’s just getting your body in the tip-top shape that you possibly can”, he said, touching on cutting out any negative food you may be eating, and studying more film and critiquing your game.
On top of that, it’s about “really making sure you’re at the top of your game physically”, he continued, “so working out, doing the things you have to do to make sure that when you come to training camp, you’re ready to go”.
Having Tuitt at full capacity for an entire season—something that they have arguably never had before—would be a major boon for the Steelers in 2019. In spite of his five years of play, there is a feeling that they have yet to see the best of what he can do over a full season.