Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: Tyson Alualu moving in at nose tackle
Tyson Alualu is starting out his second decade in the NFL during the 2020 season, originally drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. And he is doing so while essentially learning a new position, as it appears that the coaching staff envisions him as their primary nose tackle when they are in a 3-4 front.
Of course, it has become fairly rare that the Steelers line up in a set with three down linemen anymore, perhaps about 350 snaps per season on average, so what Alualu would be doing would not be characterized as moving into a starting role.
But with the base defense having become the nickel, he will also be expected to play as part of a two-down linemen front, something that he has been doing since the Steelers first signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 2017.
In fact, he has managed to play a healthy number of snaps despite being a reserve since his arrival, averaging nearly 400 snaps per season with the Steelers, including 432 last season. That was due to Stephon Tuitt’s injury, of course, but taking over nose tackle snaps will give him more work.
He wouldn’t be the first lineman the Steelers have moved inside. Chris Hoke was undersized, but they used him as a nose tackle from the get-to. Steve McLendon made the move inside and he’s still playing for the New York Jets. L.T. Walton also served as their backup nose tackle for one season after being drafted as a typical end.
A lot is riding on Alualu’s ability to successfully integrate into the traditional 3-4 role when he has to play it, however. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of confidence within the staff that Daniel McCullers could handle that responsibility on a full-time basis, and there is nobody else with the experience to do it without issue, either.