While the Pittsburgh Steelers were minor players in free agency, and that skewed toward the offensive side of the ball with the additions of Eric Ebron, Stefen Wisniewski, and Derek Watt, arguably the biggest impact on the 2020 season outside of Ben Roethlisberger will be getting a healthy Stephon Tuitt back.
The seventh-year defensive linemen was seemingly on his way to having a career year five games into the 2019 season, finally healthy, until he suffered a season-ending injury early on in game six. While Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu filled in and the defense was among the best in the league, Tuitt was arguably the best defender on the team at the time of his injury.
And yesterday was the first time he was in pads since early October, which was important for Karl Dunbar, the team’s defensive line coach. When he was asked about how much better he makes the defense having him back, he said, “I guess it’s a thing you know when he’s on the field, you can’t double team everybody”.
“He’s a big human being who can move”, he added while speaking to reporters before practice yesterday. “He’s trouble to block. It’s not much you can tell from a defensive line coach standpoint when it comes to football in shirts and shorts. Today’s going to be the day when we can toot the horn and kick the tires and really see what he brings to the table”.
While he remarks came before practice, head coach Mike Tomlin did not mention him after practice, which would seem to indicate that he made it through the team’s first sessions in pads of the year without being worse for the wear.
With Hargrave having left in free agency, Tuitt’s role in the defense is even more important than it was before as he pairs with Cameron Heyward to form the nucleus of the Steelers’ defensive front. While the latter has gone on to great recognition, including Pro Bowls and inclusion on the NFL Top 100 Players list, the former has gone more under the radar, despite being regarded in Pittsburgh as being as physically talented, if not as lucky on the injury front.
In just five-plus games, Tuitt already compiled 22 tackles with six tackles for loss and three and a half sacks in 2019 prior to his injury. He has 201 tackles with 38 for loss and 23.5 sacks over the course of his career, with the most being the 6.5 that he had in 2015 in his first full season as a starter. He had 5.5 in 2018, excluding at least one or two that were negated due to penalties.