The Pittsburgh Steelers have no choice but to make adjustments for the remainder of the season in light of the season-ending injury that Stephon Tuitt suffered in their last game. The sixth-year veteran suffered a torn pectoral muscle, and may well have already undergone surgery to repair it. He was placed on the Reserve/Injured List on Tuesday.
A 2014 second-round pick, Tuitt was off to the best start of his career, including three and a half sacks in the first five games. He looked to be on another good game in just a handful of snaps on Sunday before he suffered the injury while putting pressure on Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
He is the sort of talent where you don’t simply just make a one-for-one replacement. Filling the void that he leaves in the defense will take some doing, calling upon other positions even to pick up some slack, and asking others to do things they ordinarily might not do, or do seldom.
That includes defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who has in the past taken some snaps lined up as a 3-4 defensive end, but who will see a bigger role in that alignment than he ever has before, since Tuitt will be gone for the next 10 games.
They have little choice if they want to keep their talent on the field. Cameron Heyward and Tyson Alualu will need to take breaks, and Daniel McCullers isn’t going to be the one to kick over to defensive end, so when he comes in, he’ll play the nose tackle role. If Hargrave is in at the same time, he’ll have to be at end if they’re in the 3-4 front.
But as mentioned, it’s not new to him, something head coach Mike Tomlin pointed out on Wednesday during his brief press conference on the bye week. “He did that a year ago”, he reminded. “Stephon missed a block of games a year ago and he was highly productive. So that won’t be a new discussion. Obviously, he’ll be first up in terms of assuming some of those responsibilities, but he’s proven that he’s capable of that in the past”.
A lot is now riding on Hargrave’s shoulders to step up more than ever in what will likely be his final season in Pittsburgh, and the increased playing time may only strengthen the market value that will drive him out of town.
But that’s what happens when you have good players, and versatile players. I am confident that Hargrave will show up in this role and perform well for the defense.