Tyson Alualu is playing in his 10th NFL season after being selected in the top 10 by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2010 NFL Draft, and he is now in his third year as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now 32 years of age, his role has never been bigger in the defense over the course of the next 10 games following the loss of Stephon Tuitt, whose season ended prematurely two weeks ago with a torn pectoral muscle.
The Steelers still have quality players upfront in Pro Bowler Cameron Heyward and fourth-year defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who will also benefit from an expanded role in Tuitt’s absence, but they will need Alualu to pick up a lot of the slack as well. And he is ready, both mentally and physically, for the job.
“When you can go out there and your body feels good, it’s always encouraging to have that”, he told reporters last week about his physical conditioning, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN. “Being in my 10th year and being able to compete against all these rookies, and my body feels good, and I thank God for that every day. Really, when the opportunities come, you’ve just got to make the most of it”.
He said that he has taken some small joy in listening to the complaints of some of the Steelers’ young linemen that he has to go up against in practice as a man sometimes a decade their senior outworks and out-physicals them, leaving their bodies sore at the end of the day.
While he never quite lived up to the billing of a top-10 pick—his four sacks with the Steelers in 2017 marked a career-high, for example—Alualu has consistently presented himself as a diligent worker and reliable veteran, and has always been available from a health and conditioning standpoint.
His perseverance has kept him where he is, where others, particularly those of his draft pedigree, may have floundered as they were asked to transition to a lesser role. Alualu has only ever missed one game in his entire career due to injury, which came last season, and has rarely ever been on the injury report at all.
“I don’t think they’re asking me to do anything different because Tuitt went down”, he said of his role moving forward. “Of course, it’s a big blow to our team because of the type of playmaker he was, but I don’t think things change. They’re not asking me to do anything different”.
Just play more, of course. Tuitt consistently played two thirds of the snaps or more in any given game, even as high as 86 percent in the game against the Baltimore Ravens, which went into overtime. They have roughly 55-60 snaps per game to fill, and the bulk of that responsibility will fall on Alualu, even if they won’t ask him to do anything he hasn’t been doing when on the field.