It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
We’ll be suspending the Stock Watch series during this time, at the end of which we should have more meaningful topics to discuss once we resume, since a lot more news about free agency and its ripple effects should be current by then. In the meantime, we go back over the current makeup of the team’s roster, and assess where they are strong, or weak.
Position: Defensive End
Total Positional Figure: 6
Cameron Heyward: Though he is officially listed as a defensive tackle, for our purposes, he is an end. He plays end in the 3-4 front, and the nominal change was done with Pro Bowl consideration in mind. Either way, he is playing the best football of his career lately, now on the wrong side of 30 and heading into year 10.
Stephon Tuitt: Tuitt was having his best season leading up to his Week Six injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Heyward sounds pretty confident about his return. He is a great player, it’s just a matter of keeping him on the field.
Tyson Alualu: Now three years in Pittsburgh, Alualu has proven highly valuable due to Tuitt’s injuries. He may be the best run-stopper of all their defensive linemen, which somewhat makes up for his limitations as a rusher. Still, he may be in his last year, already 32 and under contract for one more season.
Isaiah Buggs: The rookie was a healthy scratch until Tuitt’s injury, and played sparingly—typically fewer than 10 snaps per game—after that. He showed growth in limited worth over the course of the year.
L.T. Walton: A former sixth-round pick who played out his rookie contract, Walton was not re-signed this offseason, but only brought back after Tuitt was injured. He never played, and then was injured himself and put on injured reserve.
Henry Mondeaux: It was thought after Walton’s injury that Mondeaux, who had a strong preseason, would be called up from the practice squad to take his place. Instead, the team stuck with five defensive linemen and claimed Tuzar Skipper off the Giants’ practice squad.
There’s no reason to expect anything to change here, really. Heyward and Tuitt will remain the starters, with Alualu the primary backup, while Buggs looks for a role. Depending upon the CBA, there may be room for a sixth defensive lineman to dress on gameday, but we’ll have to see. A defensive tackle will have to be added, and that could come in the form of a player capable of playing end as well. That could be either in free agency or the draft, but more likely the latter if he has that versatility.