The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a new starting nose tackle in 2020 and it’s likely to be Tyson Alualu, who has mostly played as a backup defensive end since arriving via free agency in 2017. On Sunday, Alualu met the media via a Zoom call and right out of the chute he was asked what he did physically this offseason to prepare for a full-time move to nose tackle.
“I don’t think I did too much different preparing to play nose tackle because in our defense, especially when we’re in nickel, we play a lot over the center,” Alualu said. “So, a lot of those repetitive things playing whether we’re in the tilt over the center, on the center or in the 2i over the guard. But I think it’s more of a mental thing playing inside, especially in our okie defense. It’s a lot more quick getting your hands on a center.
“So, just more of a mentality the further and further you move away from the ball, whether you’re playing D-tackle or D-end, you get more space. But when you’re playing nose tackle, you kind of get a lot more action a lot faster. So, I guess getting your hands a lot more quicker, so just working on that throughout the offseason.”
While Alualu hasn’t played a lot of true nose tackle during his time in the NFL, the last three seasons he’s had the opportunity to watch Javon Hargrave play the position and play it well. Because that, Alualu said on Sunday that he feels it’s helped him be even more prepared to make the move inside to nose tackle.
“I’ve seen Javon work throughout the years that I’ve been here, so I think I got firsthand what it looks like to be a great nose tackle,” Alualu said. “So, seeing him work, seeing how he operates on a daily basis from practice and letting it translate to the games, I think being able to see how he plays I think it was definitely positive for me moving forward.”
Alualu was also asked on Sunday if he took it as a compliment that the team came to him during the offseason and made him their first choice to take over the nose tackle position for Hargrave after he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles during the early stage of the free agency signing period.
“I think so,” Alualu said. “Being a vet in this league, it’s just always about knowing your job and doing your job and earning the respect of your teammates and coaches. And if they trust you enough to put you out there, you got to make the most of it.”
A former first-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010, Alualu already has experienced his share of pressure to perform and perform at a high level in the NFL. Now that he’s making the move inside to nose tackle and essentially being counted on to start in the middle of the Steelers base defense, Alualu doesn’t feel overly pressured to perform any more than usual.
“I don’t think it’s any more pressure,” Alualu said on Sunday. “I know I think I’ve been around the league for a while to know whenever your numbers called, you have to be ready. But it’s no different. Just when you have your opportunity, coaches preach it a lot, the standard is a standard no matter what ways or how you got here. Whatever’s expected for the starter to do, whoever was before you, the expectation is always high. You always got to play to that level for you to keep that job.
“So, filling in for Javon, he played very well here, and I look forward to doing the same. Whether it’s me out there or just trying to teach the young guys the standard of what is expected playing nose tackle or defensive end.”
Speaking of defensive end, just because Alualu is making a move inside to nose tackle, he said on Sunday that he still expects to play some at defensive end as the 2020 season progresses.
“Yeah, I still play a few snaps at defensive end, especially when Dan [McCullers] comes in and he can take over at nose and I could give Cam [Heyward] and [Stephon] Tuitt a breather,” Alualu said. “So, I’m still kind of in the mix there, but right now playing majority of the snaps at nose tackle.”
Speaking of defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, Alualu let it be known on Sunday that he knows he’ll likely flourish playing between both them on the Steelers defensive line in 2020 because of both being so incredibly good at their respective crafts.
“I mean, it’s a big benefit,” Alualu said about being flanked by Heyward and Tuitt. “I mean, I think that’s probably the best tandem right now in the league with Cam and Tuitt. Those guys, I knew coming in that I was coming into a great group even when I came in three or four years ago. So, 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.”