The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is littered with first round picks. Close your eyes and throw a dart at the depth chart and odds are, you’ll land on a high pedigree, former first round pick. Names like Devin Bush, Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick. Some may forget Tyson Alualu is on that list, the 10th overall selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010. Wednesday morning, it was one of those first round picks – Cam Heyward – speaking highly of Alualu.
“Tyson has stepped up,” Heyward told reporters via the team website. “We’re really lucky to have a guy like that. He hasn’t missed a beat. It’s one thing to go from playing sub-package, he’s always been a great communicator. Able to see things on the field. But I think playing nose he’s even expanded that. He’s found ways for him to get one-on-one matchups. He’s able to communicate that to me and Tuitt. And then we’re just able to take advantage of that. Him being in our system for so long and knowing what we expect from the nose tackle position, he knew what to do and he’s going out there and doing it. He plays with strong hands, good leverage, and great effort. I think when you have that type of formula, you’re gonna be destined for success.”
High praise coming from defensive captain and team leader. But Heyward is 100% accurate in his assessment. Alualu has taken his games to new heights the past two years and in 2020, squashed any concerns about run defense and the loss of Javon Hargrave in the middle of the Steelers’ front. He’s made a seamless transition inside, making quick work of young and inexperienced centers like the Giants’ Nick Gates and Broncos’ Lloyd Cushenberry III.
Through the first month of the season, the Steelers are tied with the Buccaneers for the best run defense in football, allowing only 2.7 YPC while Pittsburgh ranks first in total run defense, giving up 54 yards per game. They made the Giants and Texans utterly one-dimensional, stressing quarterbacks and letting their pass rush eat, while they bottled up the Broncos in the second half with some well-time adjustments.
Alualu has been a central part of that taking over the nose tackle position. As Heyward said, he plays with great technique and combines that with fanatical effort and an eye to take the football away. Few players try to rip the ball out as often as him. Critically, he’s also been available. In his 11 year career, he’s missed just three games, an unheard of figure for a defensive linemen constantly fighting in the trenches. Of those drafted in his 2010 class, only Ndamukong Suh has played more games than him.
Though he’s well into his 30s and entering the final year of his contract, Pittsburgh would be wise to re-sign him to a cheap, one-year deal in the offseason. His play more than deserves it.