Depending upon the position and the circumstances, the ‘next man up’ isn’t always just one man. The Pittsburgh Steelers required multiple men to step up along the defensive line after Stephon Tuitt suffered a season-ending injury during Week Six in 2019.
While Tyson Alualu was his direct replacement, with Javon Hargrave receiving a substantial increase in snaps, it was Isaiah Buggs, the rookie sixth-round pick out of Alabama, who would be said to have been the ‘next man up’, the one who went from dressing in street clothes to donning a helmet on Sunday.
During an interview that was conducted shortly after the season ended but posted recently on the team’s website, Buggs spoke to Missi Matthews about Tuitt and his injury, and what it meant for him to be able to fill in a bit, as well as how that came about.
“Coach T always stressed you’ve got to be available. He used the phrase ‘knock knock’ all the time. Let me stay a while, give me something cool to drink, I took that very personal because you never know when your opportunity’s gonna come”, he said in speaking about the chance to dress and play after Tuitt’s injury.
“When Tuitt went down in a bad way, we didn’t want to see him go down that way this season. He was a great player”, he went on. “It’s the next man up, and thankfully I had all training camp with those guys to be able to teach me, and that way I wouldn’t be behind, so when he went down, it was just kind of like, ‘hey, you’re up, and get ready to roll’. So that was a good thing for me, and I wish him well for his recovery”.
Buggs would ultimately dress for nine games, accumulating just 75 total snaps over the course of that time, and registering a total of three tackles, but if you looked hard enough, one could see the growth taking place over that period of time.
Still, that doesn’t guarantee that he is going to suddenly start dressing on Sundays. It appears the team has told him to maintain the lower weight they asked him to play at least season, which suggests that they are not viewing him as a 3-4 nose tackle-capable player the way they did L.T. Walton previously.
With Hargrave expected to leave in free agency, the Steelers need to find another player, either in free agency or in the draft, who will dress and play at nose tackle in 2020. Daniel McCullers is currently the only player on the roster with experience who fits that resume, and the fifth linemen who dresses also needs to be capable of playing the position, so it’s entirely possible, with Tuitt returning, that Buggs also returns to inactive status.