The Pittsburgh Steelers historically have typically had good depth along the defensive line. We saw a lapse in the quality of depth several years ago, but they tried to correct that in 2017 when they made Tyson Alualu a free agent acquisition. The former first-round draft pick has been a strong number four over the course of the past two and a half seasons.
And he has been needed because of injuries suffered perennially by Stephon Tuitt. The unfortunate reality is that the injury he suffered this year is the most significant yet, a torn pectoral muscle that will require surgery and which has already put him on the Reserve/Injured List.
Alualu has never lived up to his draft status, but has obviously carved out a quality career for himself. He is in many ways an ideal backup, even if his pass rushing prowess leaves something to be desired. On the season so far, he has 12 tackles with a sack to go along with a pass defensed that created a turnover with a Devin Bush interception being the end result.
He had to play the majority of the game on Sunday because Tuitt was injury early, having played just a small handful of snaps. In the locker room yesterday, he talked about the team’s mentality relative to feeling for their teammate yet understanding that they have to move forward.
“You never want to see one of your brothers go down like that, so it’s tough”, he said. “The feeling that we have is that we’re hurting for him, especially with the type of year he’s having, having his best year and all the hard work he put in to being in the position he’s in. So it’s tough, we hurt for him, but at the end of the day, we know that we have to pick up the slack because of that”.
The Steelers still have talent along the defensive line, notably two-time Pro Bowler Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave, the defensive tackle who most likely is going to price himself out of Pittsburgh as an unrestricted free agent in 2020.
Given that they spend most of their time with only two down linemen, it shouldn’t be that big of an issue to have talented players on the field. The bigger problem comes in as it concerns depth. The Steelers re-signed former lineman L.T. Walton, but he is largely just a poor man’s Alualu.
They don’t need Alualu to be an elite pass rusher, but it would help a lot if they were able to run stunts with him, using him as the pivot player who creates the rush lane for either Heyward or Hargrave. He may still be their best run-stopping defensive lineman, otherwise.