What all happened over the course of the past week and a half or so that led to Tyson Alualu changing his mind, and opting not to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but rather to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a contract that is reportedly worth less than what he agreed to with Jacksonville?
We likely won’t ever learn all the details, but I do hope that we will at one point gain a bit more understanding into the role that defensive line coach Karl Dunbar may have played, as according to Aditi Kinkhabwala, “a major pitch” from his position coach played a pivotal role in helping him change his mind.
Dunbar was originally hired by the Steelers to take over for John Mitchell as defensive line coach in 2018. By that point, Alualu had already been with the team for one season, but has been presided over by Dunbar for the past three, and helped to oversee his transition from an end to a nose tackle in a 3-4, something he’d never done on a regular basis previously.
Whatever role he might have played in convincing Alualu to return to Pittsburgh this offseason, he certainly merits praise for helping the big man shift so smoothly into a true 3-4 nose tackle last season, which was crucial, given the lack of viable alternatives at the time after Javon Hargrave left.
Early last offseason, Dunbar talked about Alualu moving inside, at which point it was not a guarantee that it would be a full-time move, or that it would start, with Daniel McCullers viewed, at least on the outside, as the favorite.
He talked of Alualu as “comfort food”, the been-there, done-that guy, and a guy who was, if anybody, going to push McCullers into finally being the player that his body says he should be. Perhaps they decided if that, even if Alualu could light the fire under him and keep it lit, it was finally time to cut ties.
The Steelers believed enough in what they saw from Alualu at nose tackle that they didn’t even keep McCullers on the 53-man roster. Though they did keep him on the practice squad, they opted to protect another defensive lineman instead, that being Henry Mondeaux, who would eventually find his way onto the 53-man roster. And they put up no fight when the Chicago Bears came in to sign him from their practice squad.
Whether or not it’s true that Dunbar made any kind of 11th-hour speech that persuaded Alualu to stay in Pittsburgh, there is no doubt that there is a lot of mutual respect and both personal and professional admiration between the two, and within the whole room, which, according to ESPN, also played a vital role in convincing him to come back.
Not everybody comes in here from other organizations and fits in, becomes a true ‘Steeler’. There is no question that Alualu has done that—and the best sign of it is that he wanted to stay bad enough to reneg on another, better deal from an organization he’d spent most of his career in.