While the loss of Stephon Tuitt for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is significant, the reality is that the team has already experienced the biggest hit that they can possibly take this year, as they only got six quarters of play out of franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Losing a quality defensive end in comparison gets quite neutered when you take it all in perspective.
That’s not to diminish what it means to no longer have Tuitt’s abilities for the remainder of the season; however, the nature of the defensive line, in contrast to the quarterback, is that, not only does it consist of multiple performers, but even within that relationship is a rotation of depth behind the starters.
Tyson Alualu is going to be the main body asked to step up in his absence, but the injury leaves open another gameday helmet for a defensive lineman. Following the re-signing of former lineman L.T. Walton, it’s not entirely clear whom that fifth lineman will be.
It could be Walton, of course, but he spent most of his career as the sixth lineman and healthy scratch unless there were injuries in front of him. Still, he played in nearly 40 games over four seasons for the Steelers, starting four, registering 22 tackles with two sacks and three passes defensed. He dressed for every game in 2017 as the backup to defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.
The Steelers elected not to re-sign him this offseason, and he eventually found his way to the Buffalo Bills, but did not make the team. He had remained available throughout the regular season until Pittsburgh signed him just yesterday, but he was previously in-line to participate in the XFL draft. The timing is fortunate for him, because I believe once he signed a contract with the XFL, he would have to honor it.
Truth be told, Walton was misused when they had him at defensive tackle, in my opinion. He will be best-served as a traditional 3-4 end and sub-package defensive tackle, with a priority on run defense, as should go without saying.
He’s not going to be flashy by any means, but there’s a reason he stuck around for four years, and why they were still paying attention to him this offseason, even though they didn’t re-sign him. They wanted to try to upgrade the position after Daniel McCullers surpassed him, and that effort leg to rookie Isaiah Buggs, a sixth-round pick in 2019.
The obvious advantage with Walton is that, even though he is just being brought back now, he has played in Keith Butler’s system for four years, and worked under Karl Dunbar already in 2018. He knows what to do, and he even has an extra week thanks to the bye to prepare for his first game in the black and gold in 2019.
That familiarity no doubt played a big role in his being brought back. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Now it’s just a matter of whether or not they will need him to play.