With Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt now lost for the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle the team will rely even more on defensive linemen Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu to help absorb those lost snaps.
“Both of those guys, yeah,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said on Tuesday. “They have to play; they have to step up.”
Hargrave already sees a good deal of playing time in games as a nose tackle in the team’s base defense so Alualu will likely be the player to see a greater increase in playing time. Alualu, the former first round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars who is now in his third season with the Steelers, played very well Sunday night in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar made sure to point that fact out on Tuesday when asked if the team is fortunate to have a veteran such as him on the roster.
“Yeah, you said it for me,” Dunbar said. “Tyson made some great plays in the game. You really love to see that guy that can come in and play left end, nose tackle and right end. He was our utility guy who can come in and play nose tackle, left end and right end. He was our utility guy and now he becomes a staple at left defensive end.”
Against the Chargers, Alualu registered 3 total tackles and a pass defensed in the 25 total defensive snaps that he played. That defensed pass was huge as the tipped football thrown by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was intercepted by rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush. The Steelers offense then converted that second Chargers turnover of the game into another touchdown to take a 14-0 lead with a few minutes remaining in the first quarter.
On Tuesday, Alualu talked about how he treats each and every game and every bit of playing time he receives. He also talked about how the loss of Tuitt for the season puts pressure on all members of the Steelers defensive to play better, not just him.
“When you come in as a backup, when you spell those guys, you don’t want to have a drop off,” said Alualu, according to Teresa Varley of steelers.com. “You don’t want to be the reason why they can’t come out of the game or don’t want to have breaks. I just try to make the most of the opportunity, play well, help our group and help this team win games.
“Injuries are part of the game. It’s always about the next man up. It’s not all on me. It’s the group. We have to come together and pick up the slack because we are losing a great player. We have to play better as a unit. When you lose a great player like Tuitt for a year it’s tough. Everybody has to play their best game. I know for me I have to be my best day in and day out. It’s not all on me.”
The Steelers brought back a familiar face on Tuesday in the form of defensive end L.T. Walton, who was originally selected by the team in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Walton, however, hasn’t played since the preseason as he was cut by the Buffalo Bills ahead of the start of the regular season. The Steelers also have rookie defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs on the 53-man roster but he’s yet to dress for a game this season. Additionally, defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, while he has dressed for all six games this season, has only played 62 total defensive snaps.
In short, it will be interesting to see who the Steelers new fifth dressed defensive lineman will be moving forward with Tuitt now out for the season. Butler wouldn’t tip his hand on that topic on Tuesday.
“We have to bring some people up,” Butler said. “We will see how we do later on in the week in terms of who we are going to bring up, who is going to be playing on Sunday. In this case, Monday.”
Butler and the Steelers have plenty of time to decide as their next game against the Miami Dolphins is nearly two full weeks away. That game will be played at Heinz Field. At the very least you can probably expect Alualu to start the game.
“Well being around the league you learn a lot of things and a lot of thing you learn is you’ve got to be ready and prepared when your opportunity comes,” Alualu said Tuesday. “Like I said, we just have to play better as a unit just to pick up the slack for losing Tuitt for the year. We just know that we’ve got to play our best ball. For me personally, week in, week out, to give us a chance to win.”