Though the Pittsburgh Steelers are not exactly top players in the outside free agency market, Tyson Alualu has to be among their more underrated signings in recent years. The former 11th-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft is now entering his fourth season with the team, prior to which he has supplied a high level of play and served as quality depth, as both a rotational player and as a spot starter.
With the departure of nose tackle Javon Hargrave, the team is throwing something new at him at the age of 33, sticking him inside and asking him to focus his work on playing that position, something that he has not really formally done in the past.
That said, they are asking him to take this on because they know that he can do it, both from a knowledge and skill standpoint. His tools with which he plays lends itself well to translating to the nose tackle position, where he is learning to play at a higher rate of speed, he told reporters.
He also spoke about how much he has taken advantage of playing with Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt over the course of the past three seasons, telling reporters that “it’s a big benefit” and that those two are “probably the best tandem right now in the league”.
“Those guys, I knew coming in, that I was coming into a great group even when I came in three or four years ago”, he said. “To have those guys and be able to play off of them from the middle, I think it would just definitely elevate my game and I hope I can do the same for them. I’m just looking forward to this year”.
Now for the first time, at least outside of the goal line package, there will be opportunities for all three of them to be on the field at the same time when the Steelers use their traditional 3-4 front, with Heyward and Tuitt at the end positions and Alualu now aligned at nose tackle over centers.
As mentioned, it’s something of a new look for him, but one that everybody trusts he will be able to handle, and to handle well. While the full brunt of the responsibility of the position is not going to fall on his shoulders—there is still Daniel McCullers—he could be asked to commandeer it for the majority of the snaps it dictates in 2020.
Entering the second year of the second two-year contract he has signed with the Steelers, he is also facing an uncertain future. He will turn 34 years old in May, and while interior defensive linemen are certainly capable of playing deeper into their careers than most other positions, it would be difficult for Pittsburgh to re-sign him, certainly for anything more than a low-level deal beneath what he has been making.