We still don’t know for sure whether or not he will dress on Monday night for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for their first game without Stephon Tuitt in the lineup. But if he does get that opportunity, rookie sixth-round defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs feels as though he has put himself in position to make the most of it.
For one thing, as he told Will Graves of the Associated Press, he has dropped weight, roughly 15 pounds, since the draft, doing so at the behest of the coaching staff. He said that he is now playing at about 290 pounds.
“This is a job”, he said. “Got to treat it as such. That’s what I did each and every day. Worked hard to sustain that weight”.
In spite of the fact that he put together a solid preseason for himself, earning his way onto the 53-man roster rather than making it by default—though there really weren’t a ton of other options—Buggs has been a healthy scratch for every game so far this year. That includes their last game against the Los Angeles Chargers, for which six of the seven inactives did not dress because they were injured. He was the only healthy scratch for the game.
The loss of Tuitt is a big blow for the defense. The former second-round pick was playing some of his very best football in his sixth season, sharing a team lead in sacks and creating a number of negative plays for opposing offenses. He was threatening to have another strong game when he tore a pectoral muscle early in the primetime contest against the Chargers.
Tyson Alualu stepped up in his absence, as he has every year he has been here, and played well, but the Steelers can’t rely upon him to bear the full brunt of Tuitt’s loss over 10 games. Others will have to step up, and that group of others may include Buggs.
The rookie noted that he has been learning a lot through the first month and a half of the regular season, and that it has been his job to learn, soaking up information wherever he can get it, whether from coaches or teammates. “Everybody has the opportunity to learn first before they get thrown in the water”, he said. “Now the time is here and I’ve got to take advantage of it”.
If he does fail to dress, it will be because the Steelers are more comfortable relying upon a player they are more familiar with. They re-signed L.T. Walton, himself a former sixth-round pick back in 2015, who was a street free agent since the start of the year.
Given his four-year familiarity with the system, he should have had the opportunity to get reacclimated to the defense and be prepared to play. But there’s a reason the Steelers didn’t re-sign him and turned to Buggs in the draft. They think he can offer more. Are they prepared to find out?