You’re never going to hear complaints about having too many blue-chip players, except for when it comes time to pay them, but as important as players like Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick are, it’s just as vital to have those important role players who fill in the gaps through which you can otherwise be beaten.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been fortunate to have those gap-fillers on defense, for the most part, in recent years. Recently, Fitzpatrick singled out two players, whom he believes are the sleepers of their unit, guys who put in the work but don’t earn the credit they deserve.
“I would say either Tyson Alualu or Cam Sutton”, he said, while appearing on the Safety Blitz program with Rodney Harrison. “I think those are two guys that definitely deserve more credit than what they get”.
He was particularly verbose when it comes to his new starting cornerback, Sutton, who will be filling the shoes of steven Nelson. A former third-round pick in 2017, Sutton has made starts on both the right and left cornerback spots, as well as in the slot, and is also capable of playing safety.
“Cam last year was everything for our secondary”, Fitzpatrick said. “Whenever somebody went down, he stepped in. Whenever we needed somebody to move around a little bit, he was willing to do that. And he played well, he played at a high level. He was punching out balls, he was getting turnovers, he was executing. He’s super smart, intelligent”.
Even though he has never held a starting position before—he did finally ascend to the dime role last season—Sutton ended up logging 548 defensive snaps last year during the regular season, starting six games, including four in the slot and one on each outside post. He also started the postseason game in Joe Haden’s left cornerback spot.
As for Alualu, like Sutton, he is the guy along the defensive line who fills in when needed. He spent his first three years with the team as a backup end, a crucial spot starter, but he moved to nose tackle in 2020 to replace Javon Hargrave, and arguably had the best year of his career.
“Tyson, same thing”, Fitzpatrick said of Alualu, likened to Sutton for his intelligence and his versatility to fit in wherever he was needed for the team over the years. “He’s a lesser-known dude, but he’s gonna go out there and do his job every single rep”.
The Steelers were fortunately able to retain both of them on relatively modest two-year contracts, and both will play key roles for the defense. Alualu will pick up where he left off last year. Sutton finally gets the chance to be a full-time starter, likely playing both on the outside and in the slot.