Put simply, Tyson Alualu has gotten off to a great start for his 11th season, now for the first time in his career in the position of nose tackle in a 3-4 front, though he also moves to end at times and plays inside in their ‘base’ nickel defense.
Through two games, he has managed to compile nine tackles already, including three for a loss, with a sack, three quarterback hits, and a pass defensed. He had four tackles for loss all of last season, and 12 in his first three seasons in Pittsburgh combined.
Alualu’s move inside was necessitated by the loss of Javon Hargrave in free agency, who manned the nose tackle position for the past four seasons to rave reviews, which is what earned him a $13-million-per-season contract to sign across the state with the Philadelphia Eagles.
As unusual as it feels to say, though, the defense hasn’t really missed him, at least not yet. And that’s not just because of how good their front is already, but also because of the level of play that they have gotten from Alualu.
“It’s not only just the teammate he is, it’s the player he’s become”, Cameron Heyward said of one of the few players on the team who is actually older than he is. “He’s so sound for us. He’s given a level of consistency that we got accustomed to having from Javon Hargrave, but now to have Tyson in there, not only picking up the slack but making it his own, we’re very grateful to have Tyson”.
Those are some big words considering the performance that they got from Hargrave, and perhaps we should be more cautious than to rush to judgment after only two games. His play is bound to level off a bit. But the truth is that he has been playing well in whatever role has been asked of him since he got to Pittsburgh.
“Tyson is a guy that we all want to see succeed, and he’s proving us right”, Heyward added. “He works his tail off, comes in in great shape. It’s not always easy to go from playing d-end to nose tackle in a matter of a year, but Tyson’s bought in. He’s a heck of a teammate, and I don’t think everybody talks about it enough. Tyson has always been a guy who’s always put team first, and we’re lucky to have him”.
The Steelers have actually had some success in bringing in former first-round picks who did not live up to their pedigree, turning them into team-first guys willing to contribute wherever they’re needed, and they have often been rewarded with bigger roles over time. Alualu is the latest, and he’s making the most of it.