The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2019 season wanting to be able to get a good rotation going along their defensive front. They believed that they had the requisite talent to do that this year, even if that talent was largely frontloaded with the likes of Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, and Stephon Tuitt leading the way.
While Heyward and Tuitt obviously received a lot of playing time, they were getting the others worked in as well—Hargrave seeing plenty of snaps, plus Tyson Alualu and Daniel McCullers getting playing time. It’s something the players wanted. It’s something the coaches wanted.
It’s something that, in the light of Tuitt’s season-ending injury, they have to figure out as they go through the course of the season is still feasible or not. The injury pushes Alualu into the starting lineup and places a larger burden on Hargrave. It’s not clear how that reshapes McCullers’ role, or how much the fifth lineman will play.
They still have to figure out who the fifth lineman is, between rookie Isaiah Buggs (who has been inactive for every game so far) and the recently re-signed L.T. Walton, who was on the roster between 2015 and 2018. Mike Tomlin was asked during his press conference yesterday if they would still be able to rotate the way they want to after Tuitt went down.
“It depends, quite frankly, on their quality of play”, he told reporters. “If the guys are playing really solidly, we’ll play ‘em. If they’re not, then we’ll play ‘em less. We have a plan, but we’ll remain light on our feet. We won’t be married to that plan because we want to produce a winning effort, and we’ve got to acknowledge what we’re looking at, sometimes in-stadium”.
Basically, if they are working other people onto the field and they are having success and those players are at least doing their job, they can have a level of comfort in continuing to do that. If they play their depth and it yields poor play, they will have to ride the top line for as much as they can take.
At least with Alualu, they have a somewhat known commodity. He is in his third season with the Steelers and has started multiple games due to injuries to Tuitt, so this is not a new role for him. Minus Tuitt (replaced with Buggs), this is actually the same group of players they had from 2017 on.