Shortly after the Pittsburgh Steelers announced their initial 53-man roster, word also broke that OT Zach Banner, RB Anthony McFarland Jr., and DE Stephon Tuitt were going to be placed on short-term IR to begin the season. This designation meant that all three players would be required to miss at a minimum of three games to begin the 2021, not being able to return to the active roster until the team’s Week 4 matchup against the Green Bay Packers.
Stephon Tuitt hadn’t practiced all training camp, dealing with the emotional turmoil of his brother passing away earlier this offseason. However, there was suspicion that Tuitt was dealing with an unknown injury as well, which was later reported to be a knee issue. DC Keith Butler recently confirmed that Tuitt’s knee had been bothering him throughout camp and that his weight had gotten a little high after not participating in the offseason training program. Butler, along with several of Tuitt’s teammates, have voiced their support of him and what he is currently going through, saying they will be there for him and expect him to get him back sooner rather than later.
Until then, Chris Wormley will be expected to fill in for Tuitt as Pittsburgh’s base DE opposite of Cam Heyward. Butler voiced his praise of Wormley recently to the media, stating he was happy the team re-signed him this offseason and his retention allows the other young defensive linemen to continue to develop in a complimentary role rather than being thrust into heavy defensive snaps in place of Tuitt.
Steelers Depot’s very own Alex Kozora has highlighted Wormley as a training camp winner this preseason, giving him a high grade in his camp recap and called him “quality depth especially with Tuitt’s Week One status uncertain.” After going back and watching the preseason finale against the Panthers where Wormley saw extensive action, I would have to agree with Kozora’s comments.
Wormley fits the mold of a Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman, having the size, length, frame, and versatility to play virtually any position along the defensive line. While not a superb athlete or a skilled pass rusher, Wormley does well at generating a push of the pocket with his leverage and long arms. On this play, Wormley aligns as a 5-tech on the outside shoulder of the RG. On the snap, he engages #67 John Miller, getting his left arm inside his chest as he pushes him into the lap of the QB for the pressure. #14 Sam Darnold checks down the pass to his back on the swing route to the left, but credit to Wormley here collapsing the pocket.
Here is another example later in the first quarter where Wormley walks back the guard into the lap of the QB, helping collapse the pocket and result in Darnold getting sacked on the play.
We see a similar move later in the game where Wormley makes a splash as a pass rusher. On third-and-long, Wormley runs a twist with #99 Henry Mondeaux being the crasher into the center. He engages the center with arms extended walking him back and hits the swim over the shoulder over the center’s right shoulder, getting right into Darnold’s face and combines with #44 Jamir Jones for the sack.
Wormley uses his length and frame to his advantage in the run game as well. On this rep, we see Wormley get engaged with Miller off of the snap of the football and fights pressure by working down the LOS while keeping his outside shoulder free. He then sheds the block and aids #41 Robert Spillane in tackling the back in the backfield for the loss of yardage on the play, stringing out the run and preventing the back from getting to the sideline.
Here is a similar play to the one above in the third quarter of Wormley keeping his outside leg and arm free on the run to the right, keeping the blocker off of his frame and forces the runner to bounce it outside and right into his teammates to take him down before getting back to the LOS.
Still, let’s not convince ourselves that Wormley will be a 1-for-1 replacement for Tuitt along the defensive line. He is what he is at this point, and while he can be solid as a pass rusher by pushing the pocket, he isn’t anything spectacular, lacking the hand usage and counter to consistently get off of blocks. Wormley also can struggle with leverage at times, having issues setting an anchor against the run. Case-in-point here on this run to the right where #72 Taylor Moton washes Wormley clear out of the play, creating a big hole on the right side for #30 Chuba Hubbard to exploit for the first down.
A similar problem occurs on this second-and-short where the offensive line generates a heavy push upfront, running over Wormley across from Moton to move the sticks. Handling a double team with the RG coming down on your inside shoulder is no easy task for any defensive lineman. Still, Wormley gets buried on the play and ends up on his back after getting pushed off of his spot, something you would hope a guy like Tuitt to fare better holding his own against that push upfront.
Overall, there is a lot to like from Wormley’s performance against the Panthers and throughout the preseason as a whole to suggest he will be able to hold his own in place of Tuitt as the first man up at DE to start the 2021 season. While he may not be the high-end starter the team has with Tuitt, he never was expected to be that kind of player since entering the league, rather serving as a capable starter that is best served for a rotational role along the defensive line that is solid against the run and can generate a push upfront as a pass rusher.
Pittsburgh will be tasked with facing the Buffalo Bills, Las Vegas Raiders, and Cincinnati Bengals to begin the 2021 campaign. While these teams may not be considered dominant rushing attacks, being stout against the run and forcing them to pass on second and third down will be key for the defense to be successful in getting off of the field and getting the ball back to the offense. Should Wormley play with more consistent leverage, I would expect him to represent himself well against these teams’ offensive lines, filling in well as the “starter” until Tuitt hopefully returns in Week 4.
What are your thoughts on Chris Wormley? Do you think he can be a capable starter in place of Stephon Tuitt to begin the season? Should Pittsburgh put him on a regular rotation with the other young defensive linemen, or allow Wormley to play a majority of the snaps opposite of Cam Heyward? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!