Stephon Tuitt missed most of the 2019 season due to a torn pectoral muscle. It put an end to what was shaping up to be perhaps the best season of his career up to that point. But he didn’t let it sidetrack him. He used it as an opportunity to grow in ways that don’t involve him being on the field, and he turned that into the performance we have seen from him through the first five games of the season: one of the most dominant interior defenders in the NFL.
The Notre Dame product has always seemed to teeter on the cusp of statistical and productivity greatness throughout his career, but there always seemed to be something that would impede him. Generally, that has been injuries. He has not played a 16-game season since his rookie year, during which he was a rotational player until the December.
Staying healthy has obviously been key to his great play of late, but he is always looking for ways to get better, and he found ways when he could not do much physically due to the injury that he suffered roughly a year ago.
“We are constantly in our books, in our iPads. We don’t ever get a chance to look up”, he told reporters on Thursday. “Even all offseason, we train and get ready for the next year. When you get injured, you have more time to look within, get an opportunity to see and reevaluate your life. Especially for me, that’s how I took it”.
“It was an opportunity just to reevaluate, just to get a chance to realize how blessed I am in my position, and to look at things I could be better at”, he added. “And I think that’s the exciting component, if you want to look at it from a positive attribute of coming back off of injury”.
Now, in his seventh season, he is playing at as high a level as he ever has in his career. He has four sacks in five games (including two split sacks). He has 12 hits on the quarterback, which is well on his way to shattering his previous career best. He is simply on a tear in the pass rush.
And frankly, the only reason his numbers against the run are not more impressive than they already are is because the front seven has so many defenders who are making plays against the run consistently, including Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu, T.J. Watt, and Bud Dupree.
Whatever Tuitt did since his injury last year, it’s certainly worked. You would never know that he tore a pectoral muscle with the way he’s playing, but to listen to him talk, he really talked a lot about inward growth. Maybe the ways that is helping him on the field are not tangible, but we see the results either way.