Considering the fact that he finished the week without even being given a game status, it certainly appears as though the Pittsburgh Steelers anticipate that veteran defensive tackle Tyson Alualu will make his return to the center of the defense after missing this past game against the Dallas Cowboys, and the vast majority of the game against the Baltimore Ravens, in which he left early due to a knee injury.
The 33-year old was limited in practice during the week on Wednesday and Thursday, but was able to ramp things up to full on Friday ahead of the Saturday extended walkthrough. And considering how the run defense has played in his absence, he will be a welcome addition.
“That’d be huge”, outside linebacker T.J. Watt said of Alualu’s possible return. “Tyson’s a great player for us. He’s a great asset inside against the run and in the passing game, and a guy that’s a well-seasoned veteran. Just a great guy to have in the line if we can have him this week”.
With the big man sidelined, the Steelers have had to turn to a rotation of young and inexperienced players, with second-year Isaiah Buggs absorbing the bulk of the 3-4 nose tackle snaps, but it is a position that first-year Henry Mondeaux and rookie Carlos Davis were also called upon to handle at times.
Karl Dunbar is now in his third season coaching Alualu, who arrived in Pittsburgh one year before the coach, but it’s fair to say that they have developed a relationship over the years. This past week, he likened the 11th-year lineman’s career progression to that of Rod Woodson as he transitioned from cornerback to safety.
“I think he is in that evolution now. He is 10 or 11 years in, and he really understands football”, Dunbar offered. “He is a great technician, and we have guys who play the end. We just lost a guy who was a really good player at nose tackle, and he stepped in and he is doing a great job because he is a ballplayer”.
Alualu’s play had drawn high praise this year, and his run defense has graded out very high among interior defensive linemen after transitioning to the nose tackle position in 2020 following the free agency departure of Javon Hargrave.
That job gave him a steady game-to-game role and more opportunities to get on the field, but he still holds responsibilities to rotate in and out in the Steelers’ nickel package, which is their most common personnel formation.