The Pittsburgh Steelers entered yesterday’s game already down three starters on defense. Defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt was on the Reserve/Injured List, while linebacker Devin Bush and cornerback Joe Haden were ruled out in pre-game warmups.
Over the course of the game, they also lost lineman Tyson Alualu, who suffered a fractured ankle and thus may have perhaps played his last down. Star edge rusher T.J. Watt succumbed to a groin injury and did not return. That left the unit down about half of its starters, particularly in the front seven. But that can’t be an excuse.
“Losing Ty was something we had to adjust to. It took me a while to settle down, but he’s a heck of a player”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward said after the game. “We’ll see what happens there. Injuries are a part of the game. It’s not something we can run from. That’s what practice is for”.
With Tuitt out, Chris Wormley was already starting in his place. Now that Alualu is going to be sidelined indefinitely, the nose tackle role will fall upon a platoon of players, perhaps Isaiah Buggs foremost, who dealt with an injury during the game as well. Carlos Davis, another defensive tackle, was ruled out last week. They need to get him back.
“A guy is taking less reps—that’s giving reps to somebody else. Hopefully we have guys that are able to step up”, Heyward said. “I’ve got to be harder on my guys. We’ve got to make the plays. Having a guy like Tyson or T.J., there’s like a blanket out there. We were already down Tuitt to start with. It’s got to be a collective effort. It’s not one man to be Superman. The group has to pick up the slack”.
Coming into the season, the defensive line was regarded as the Steelers’ deepest position; eight players even made the initial 53-man roster. That depth will be tested in a major way going forward. Wormley, Buggs, and Davis, provided that the latter two are healthy, must play critical roles.
It should be taken as a given, as well, that Henry Mondeaux will be called up from the practice squad once Alualu is removed from the 53-man roster. The second-year veteran is capable of playing both outside and inside, and can contribute on special teams.
Rookie fifth-round pick Isaiahh Loudermilk made his NFL debut yesterday due to the Tuitt and Davis injuries. He was likely to be a healthy scratch all year barring injury. Injuries may force him onto the field early, though, learning in a trial by fire.
Somebody—everybody—has to step up and play sound football collectively. The unit still has a star in Heyward who is capable of blowing up plays. Surround him with guys who will do their job and this can still be a strong front. This is what depth is for.