The Pittsburgh Steelers were getting the beginning of a career year in 2019 for sixth-year veteran defensive end Stephon Tuitt, at least up until he suffered a torn pectoral muscle early in Sunday’s victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. The injury ended his season, dealing a big blow to the defense.
In reality, it’s a dual hit, as it not only takes away one of their best players, and one whose disruptive capabilities help others to make plays, but it also significantly weakens their bench in terms of available depth.
No matter how it shakes out, somebody who hasn’t played a snap this year will be dressing for the rest of the season. Whether that is rookie Isaiah Buggs, who has been a healthy scratch in every game so far, even when they had six injured players on the inactive list, or whether it’s L.T. Walton, the fifth-year veteran whom they re-signed after Tuitt was placed on the Reserve/Injured List.
And whoever is active is going to play. They need five defensive linemen to play, particularly those who are capable of playing in the nickel defense, because they valuable the ability to rotate players. Or as Tyson Alualu told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “they preach that” here.
“When I was coming in, they talked about that”, he said, referring to 2017 when he first signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent. “A lot of the great teams do that, being able to roll the guys in and out, not just for that game but so guys are fresh for late in the year. That works well if we can get to that point”.
Alualu was a key part of that rotational depth, but now he has to fill in the void Tuitt’s absence leaves behind as a full-time starter. He’s obviously not going to entirely fill those shoes himself, either in performance or in snap count, but the bulk of the weight will be on his shoulders.
“When you lose a great player like Tuitt for the year, it’s tough, so the guys have to rally around him”, he said. “I have to be at my best day in and day out and week in and week out. But we have great depth with Buggs, and bringing L.T. back was big. We have to play good football to help this team win”.
He may be a little more optimistic about the depth than others are, but that remains to be seen. There’s a reason Buggs was drafted, and why he made the team, even if he wasn’t dressing. He wasn’t dressing because they didn’t need to dress him. But now that there is an opening, perhaps he can work himself into the mix and carve out a role.