The Pittsburgh Steelers have had two blue-chip defensive players sidelined for all of training camp, albeit for very different reasons. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt is wrapping up a very important contract extension that figures to make him the highest-best defensive player in NFL history.
The reason for defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt’s absence from practice sessions is much more personal, after his younger brother passed away tragically earlier this offseason. But he has still been a regular presence, and everyone around him understands the situation.
“Yeah. It’s not a problem”, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said of Tuitt’s status after practice today, video of which is not currently available. “He’s here all the time. He’s always in the meetings and stuff like that. When is he coming back? When we need him to come back. Does he need to come back and get in shape and stuff like that? Sure, he does. But we’re not concerned about it right now. Hopefully, next week we’ll get him back. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens”.
Tuitt is entering his eighth season this year, and is coming off of his strongest of his career. He recorded 11 sacks and 10 tackles for loss a year ago, while also forcing two fumbles and recording three passes defensed, along with 25 quarterback hits. Yet he didn’t make the Pro Bowl.
The 28-year-old is at the physical peak of his life, but sometimes life takes precedence over your profession, and both Tuitt and the team right now can afford to give him the space that he needs to process what he, and his family, are going through.
I have no doubt that he will be ready to go by the time the Steelers travel for week one against the Buffalo Bills, as suggested by Butler’s remark that he will be back “when we need him to come back”. There is really no need for him to play in the preseason, certainly, and it’s been an invaluable opportunity for the team to explore their depth, as well.
The only reservation, which I’ve brought up previously, is whether or not the time off exposes him to a greater risk of injury, but the reality is that we do not know what conditioning work he might be doing on the side, maybe even in his own home. This is also the case for Watt, who has clearly been conditioning himself, even if he hasn’t been in drills.
The loss of an immediate family member is a shock to the system from which you never truly fully recover. You expect that you will someday lose your parents. You don’t expect to outlive your younger brother, nor do you imagine not celebrating his 30th birthday.
You’re certainly not going to be mentally equipped for a while to grapple with the physical and mechanical necessities of football for a while without exposing yourself to an increased risk of injuring yourself. It’s understandable that the coaches would be fine with his not pushing himself unnecessarily.