2021 Training Camp Battles: Backup Defensive Tackle

Steelers defensive linemen

With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2021 season.

Unlike last season, which was carried out through a pandemic, things should return much to normal this year, which should help provide us with clearer insights into where people stand. The return of the preseason in particular is a crucial window into operations that we lacked a year ago.

Position: Defensive Tackle

Up for Grabs: Backup Job

In the Mix: Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs, Henry Mondeaux

The Steelers’ starting defensive line is one of the most set position groups in the entire NFL. You have Cameron Heyward on one side, and then you have Stephon Tuitt, coming off of his best season, on the other. In the middle, you have the old-timer, Tyson Alualu, who is back for two years of more of the same after very successfully transitioning to the defensive tackle position.

The question now is, who is the top backup defensive tackle behind him? Three different players manned that role at different points last season, for different reasons and for varying lengths of time, but all of them are back this year.

The latest primary reserve was Carlos Davis, a 2020 seventh-round pick who defied the odds simply by making the 53-man roster in a pandemic year at a deep position group. He not only made the team, but gradually earned playing time as the season progressed, and sent Isaiah Buggs to the bench.

Buggs, a sixth-round pick from 2019, didn’t play a lot, but he opened last season as the top nose tackle reserve. He spent much of the back half of the season inactive, though he missed some time due to COVID-19, and some of his later inactives could have potentially been attributed to lingering side effects, which players his size would be more likely to experience.

Finally, there’s Henry Mondeaux, who profiles more as an end, but who did play inside a bit last year when necessary. He doesn’t have the size that is prototypical of the position, but his athleticism—accentuated by the fact that he was used on special teams to cover kicks—was able to make up for some of that.

Chances are pretty good that the winner of this competition will be the only one to actually make the 53-man roster, so the stakes are quite high. Chris Wormley figures to be locked in as the Steelers’ primary reserve end, and Isaiahh Loudermiilk, a rookie fifth-round pick, stands an excellent chance of sticking as well.

It would be unlikely, but not impossible, for the team to keep seven defensive linemen, rather than six, but none of them should be banking on it happening. The good news, to some extent, is that both could very well be kept on the practice squad, preserving for them the opportunity for advancement down the line.

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