Even though he has technically moved into a starting role this year as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ primary nose tackle, there is a sense in which Tyson Alualu is more important to the defense in 2020 than he has ever been before due to reasons that have nothing to do with that ‘promotion’.
While they have been fortunate so far to keep Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt healthy, the team no longer has the quality depth of Javon Hargrave to fall back on, who left for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency on a three-year, $39 million deal. Hargrave was the next man up, with Alualu as a very valuable additional role player, but now he is ‘the guy’ in addition to being the nose tackle.
Right now, he is sidelined with a knee injury, which has kept him out of most of the past two games. He worked in a limited capacity in practice yesterday, and it is not clear if he is trending toward playing on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Heyward, though, is not in a hurry to see him back on the field, at least not before he’s all the way back.
“He’s got to take care of his body”, he told reporters of Alualu yesterday. “I don’t think we can throw anybody out there just so we can throw anybody out there. We want Tyson 100 percent when he comes back. But if he’s not [back], it’s gonna be up to [Isaiah] Buggs, Carlos [Davis], and Henry [Mondeaux] holding it down”.
The Steelers have relied upon that trio of young players over the last two games, with Davis making his NFL debut on Sunday and logging more than a dozen snaps, registering two tackles, including one for a loss. Heyward gave his assessment of their input.
“I thought they did an adequate job. Some of those guys hadn’t even taken an NFL snap before, so in that type of game, and to have such critical snaps, I thought Henry did an outstanding job on Sunday”, he said. “There’s one play that really sticks out to me when he made that tackle, he shed the tight end. We needed that play, we needed that stop, and he was able to deliver for us”.
“Carlos also had another big play when it came to sniffing out that screen”, Heyward added of the seventh-round rookie. “I thought Buggs played with good hands. There were a lot of good positives, but there are still some things we can continue to work on”.
Whether or not Alualu dresses will determine how much of a role these young linemen will have on Sunday. If he is not yet ready or the Steelers choose to err on the side of caution, then they will have to step up against the Bengals and their statistically…uh…unremarkable ground game.