The Pittsburgh Steelers used a sixth-round pick on Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs because they believed he could play. In the wake of the injury suffered by Stephon Tuitt that ended is season, they may have to find out, sooner or later.
While they did re-sign former Steelers defensive lineman L.T. Walton, it remains to be seen whom between the two of them will get the fifth and final helmet for the position from during games. Walton spent most of his career as a healthy scratch when others were healthy, with the exception of 2017 when he was the direct backup to Javon Hargrave.
The coaching staff will have the next two weeks to make the decision as to whom between Walton and Buggs will dress, but if pass-rush ability is the factor that they decide tips the scales, then it’s quite likely we may see the rookie on the field for the first time. And if he does, he’ll be thinking of Tuitt.
“It’s kind of hurting”, Buggs said of managing the loss of the sixth-year veteran. “He always told me to keep my head up on days when I felt down, when I wasn’t playing. Now the opportunity is here, presented to me, I have to stand up and do it right for him. Everything that is being presented to me is for him”.
The Steelers are fortunate to have a number of veterans along the defensive line, with Tuitt becoming one of them, but Cameron Heyward and of course Tyson Alualu are there as well. Pretty much all of the recent linemen who have been on the roster have had Heyward rub off on them in some form or fashion, and Tuitt has branched out into more of a leadership role in recent years as well.
“He was having a marvelous year. He was being dominant”, Buggs said of him. “He is going to tell me it’s time to step up and be the bigger person and take over. I am going to follow behind Cam and all the veteran guys, and they are going to lead me in the right direction”.
Assuming that he does play, of course. From my personal perspective, I thought that he played well for the most part, better than most rookie linemen have in recent years outside of the obvious names at the top of the depth chart. He is certainly ahead of where Walton was during his rookie season.
Of course, no answer is a good answer when you’re talking about seeking a substitute for a Pro Bowl-quality starter like Stephon Tuitt. They will close ranks and fill in the gaps and move on. Likely, they will remain a quality and productive unit, as well. But they won’t be the same, or as good, with him on the sideline rather than on the field.