Short of perhaps Ben Roethlisberger, is there a more popular person in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room right now than Tyson Alualu? The 11th-year veteran has been heaped praise in the media on a weekly basis by teammates and coaches alike in his first season in replacing Javon Hargrave as the team’s primary nose tackle.
And even though everyone is very happy to have witnessed him play so well and have so much success so far, the biggest thing is that nobody has shown even a remote level of surprise—least of all his closest linemates, Stephon Tuitt and, more recently, Cameron Heyward, who offered his praise on Thursday with Mark Madden on 105.9.
“Tyson’s been great. It’s no surprise to us. This guy was a first-round draft pick for a reason. I know it hasn’t worked out in other places, but Tyson has always been reliable, always accountable, communicates at a high level”, he said of the only defender older than he is.
“He’s always been our third or fourth guy in our nickel package, but now he’s able to display that in the ‘base’ defense. He’s just been a bright spot, and he provides that leadership, and that veteran play that we needed at that nose tackle position with Javon Hargrave leaving”.
Coincidentally, of course, Hargrave will be on the field as well, only he’ll be wearing a different uniform. Five games into his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, they come to Heinz Field to visit his former team—and 5,500 fans, as well. This will be the first time in a game in which I hope that Hargrave doesn’t get any sacks.
While he is indeed a great player, however, and was deserving of the robust contract that he got from the Eagles, it is also true that the Steelers have had more than adequate and effective play from the nose tackle position this season thanks mostly to Alualu, with Isaiah Buggs also filling in some snaps here and there.
That’s not to take anything away from Hargrave. It would have been great if the economics worked out that would have allowed them to keep him. The depth value alone of retaining him would have been enormous. But Alualu at $3 million per season sure is great value.
There are many reasons that the Steelers have had the best run defense in the NFL through the first quarter of the season this year, and Alualu is one of the biggest reasons. But he has also picked it up a bit as a pass rusher as well, which is always a welcome bonus. It helps to be surrounded by quality pass rushers, as well.