The Pittsburgh Steelers have gone through the entire training camp and preseason without two of their starting defenders participating in even one formal practice. Fifth-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt is in the midst of a life-changing contract negotiation, and his team has made a business decision that he would work out to the side on his own until there’s a line to sign.
Defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt’s situation is much more complicated, and frankly, unclear. While there was a report from Gerry Dulac indicating that there was an undisclosed injury he is dealing with, none of the comments made by his coaches and teammates have suggested that.
Tuitt’s younger brother was killed in a tragic accident earlier this offseason, and he has been understandably prioritizing his family and his mental health during this time, with the organization’s complete blessings.
“Stephon is a work in progress”, fellow lineman Isaiah Buggs said of Tuitt following Friday’s game. “He’s going through what he’s going through. He’s been at the club every day. He’s been working with us every day. He’s a work in progress. Stephon is our guy. We love him, and we’re ready for him”.
Heading into his eighth year in 2021, Tuitt is coming off the best season of his career, during which he recorded 11 sacks with 10 tackles for loss and a couple dozen hits on the quarterback. He is in the prime of his career, and very capable of playing at a Pro Bowl level.
But his status, at least to those of us on the outside, is unclear as it pertains to availability for the regular-season opener. Last week, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said that he expected Tuitt would practice when they need him to practices, and expressed hope that would come this week.
If he is not available to start the season, for whatever reason it might be, it wouldn’t be the end of the world; the Steelers have experience playing without him in the past, and the defensive line is their deepest position on the roster, with Chris Wormley, Buggs, and Carlos Davis ready to contribute in bigger roles.
“Collectively, he’s our guy, and whatever lies down in front of us, that’s what we’re gonna do”, Buggs told reporters when he was asked about potentially having a bigger opportunity in front of him relative to Tuitt’s status. “But he’s our guy”.
Tuitt is undeniably one of the most talented players that the Steelers have on their roster, at any position, full stop. It was great to see his production finally match his abilities last year. But he understandably has other things on his mind right now, and I’m appreciative of the Steelers organization’s being considerate of what he’s going through and recognizing that this is something that doesn’t simply fade over time, let alone overnight.