One of the basic principles for roster construction for the Pittsburgh Steelers is that you have to carry at least six defensive linemen, even if you only dress five on Sundays. With three defensive linemen on the Reserve/Injured List this season, however, this principle was tested and tossed aside, the team now relying upon just five for as long as that group can stay healthy.
The big injury in the group came of course to Stephon Tuitt, their high-performance, high-compensation defensive end, who was looking to be set up for the best season of his career before suffering a season-ending injury early in the sixth game of the year.
With the injury, sixth-round rookie Isaiah Buggs went from gameday inactive to contributor. L.T. Walton was signed to fill the roster spot Tuitt left behind, but he ended up as the inactive. He later suffered an injury himself and was placed on the Reserve/Injured List without another lineman to take his place. Lavon Hooks was already on that list since training camp.
Since then, Buggs has only played sparingly, between six and 13 snaps per game. He has officially only registered one assisted tackle. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t contributing meaningfully when he is on the field, or that his teammates are not noticing.
“Isaiah’s gonna be good”, said Javon Hargrave via the team site, now in his fourth season, who has been one of the main recipients of the snaps left behind in Tuitt’s absence. “Isaiah reminds me of how I was. Just eager to play, just wants to be out there”.
One of the differences between Hargrave and Buggs is that the former was a high-performing player coming out of a small school, while the latter was an end-of-line contributor from one of the most decorated college teams in the country: Alabama. They do offer some interesting similarities in their game, however, if Buggs can develop.
“He can get out there. He can rush the passer. He can play the run real good, too”, Hargrave said in talking about his younger teammate, who’s just getting his career off the ground. “It’s just good to see him grow and see what he’s gonna become too when he gets up there”.
What kind of role might he have next season? It’s hard to say, and may have a lot to do with whether or not Hargrave is here. Tuitt will be back, as will Cameron Heyward, of course, and presumably Tyson Alualu as well. Will Daniel McCullers make it through another season? If so, Buggs could be in for another year on the bench, in which case he had better make the most of the few opportunities he gets over the course of the next four weeks.