The Pittsburgh Steelers were awfully busy Wednesday afternoon putting together their practice squad (that as of this writing, still has one open spot). The majority of the list were players who spent training camp with the team. But there were also five new faces added from outside the organization. Through the new few days, we’ll provide scouting reports and summaries on each one of those guys.
Here, we’ll focus on OLB Derrek Tuszka, formerly of the Denver Broncos. I’m going to break his game down with his run defense, pass rush/coverage, and special teams value, with an assortment of clips from his rookie season last year and the 2021 preseason.
Tuszka is #48 in all these clips.
Going through these clips in the order I pulled them up with a scouting report below. Tuszka has only 27 regular season defensive snaps under his belt so there isn’t a whole lot to check out in real game action. He has one regular season tackle on defense, a two-yard stop against the Raiders last season. Check it out.
Raiders running split zone here with the off-ball tight end coming across. Tuszka (the ROLB) takes on the block but never finds the football or the runner. Luckily, the back cuts up into him and Tuszka is credited for the stop. Tuszka seems to be squeezing down his gap with the DB blitz off the edge, Tuszka’s job is to spill the ball to his help, but I’d like to see him show better eyes to also find the runner and not just the block. Eyes on the ball, not just the block.
Another clip from the Raiders game. Tuszka lacks length, sub 31 1/2 inch arms, and he has trouble creating space in the run game. The ROLB here, he gets swallowed up by LT Kolton Miller and pushed off the ball before being able to shed late.
Some more positive clips. These come from this year’s preseason. Nice job here to flow down the line, maintain his C gap, force the frontside guard to pick him up, and then shed and make the tackle here after a short gain. Here, he’s the LOLB, showing he can play either OLB spot.
Tuszka (ROLB) played strong run defense against Seattle this summer. Favorable matchup on the tight end, he shows his power to walk the tight end back and basically squeeze the running back and keep him inside. Doesn’t make the tackle but helps make the play and the run goes for just a yard or two.
Good job here against the left tackle to take on the block, hold the point of attack, and shed to stuff the RB as he hits the hole. Chips in on the tackle for the stop.
Really like this rep by Seattle too. Lined up at ROLB, he takes on the initial double-team by the two Seahawks’ tight ends. Holds the POA initially and then creates movement once the interior tight end comes off the block and works to the next level.
Again, Tuszka is able to walk the tight end back, squeeze the runner, and keep him inside to where his teammates are at, in this case the unblocked MIKE linebacker. And so it’s another run stuff.
One more clip, preseason against Minnesota. Tuszka (the LOLB) has D Gap/Edge responsbility here, not allowing the back to bounce outside. He sets a physical edge against the tight end, staying square and maintaining outside leverage. The back still tries to boucne the ball wide and Tuszka is eaisly able to shed the block, turn the back inside, and still make the tackle for a loss. Really nice rep here.
Let’s look at Tuszka as a pass rusher. Preseason versus the Rams. Nice job here on the bull-to-rip and the ability to bend through contact on his way to pressure the quarterback. Unfortunately couldn’t get the QB on the ground but he helps flush him out of the pocket.
Matchup against the same Rams’ RT. Just like Tuszka’s energy and fight here. Knocks the RT back, counters inside, and able to get some late pressure on the QB. Not a tremendous rep but he’s working hard with energy and a good plan. Doesn’t get himself pushed upfield and takes advantage of initially winning the rep.
Though he didn’t drop into coverage a lot, he did some basic zone/hook work. Liked this rep, again against the Rams. Working as the LOLB, he drops into zone, follows the QBs eyes, and helps squeeze this throw over the middle.
Despite a really impressive 6.87 three-cone time, Tuszka does seem tight in his hips/ankles around the edge. As the ROLB against Seattle, he tries to turn the corner against the LT but gets way upfield, even knowing the QB hitches up into the clean pocket. Tuszka got two yards deeper than the QBs drop and is totally run out of the play.
Tuszka’s biggest role so far has come on special teams. He played 177 snaps there last season, 38% of the time, but it’s really a higher percentage considering he missed the middle of last season on IR due to a hamstring injury. His ST snap count in the games he played looked like this.
Week 1 – 16 snaps (67%)
Week 2 – 23 snaps (73%)
Week 4 – 20 snaps (57%)
Week 6 – 18 snaps (75%)
Week 14 – 17 snaps (57%)
Week 15 – 28 snaps (88%)
Week 16 – 24 snaps (80%)
Week 17 – 21 snaps (62%)
And he chipped in with a couple of special teams tackles including one against Pittsburgh back in Week 2. Aligned as R3 (third guy in on the right side from Denver’s point of view), he’s able to fight off the Steelers’ double-team of Alex Highsmith and Robert Spillane. Ray-Ray McCloud is able to break the first tackle, usually a strong sign for the return team, but Tuszka is able to shed and make the tackle inside the 25 to still set the Broncos’ defense up with good field position.
Here’s Tuszka as L4 (second guy from the left) running down this kick against Carolina. Wins his one-on-one matchup and makes the tackle inside the 15 yard line. Kick coverage is the first line of defense and Denver wins the field position battle in a major way here.
– Good size and bulk though lacks length
– Experience playing on his feet and both LB spots, versatile and used in coverage, on stunts, will fit Steelers’ scheme
– Shows power in hands in run game, able to hold point of attack, especially against tight ends
– Able to rip through contact and shows energy as a pass rusher
– Capable special teamer who works hard to get off blocks and stay clean
– Good zone IQ and processor
– Very good testing numbers coming out of college
– Testing doesn’t completely translate to on-field play
– Average athleticism and explosiveness, no special physical trait
– Lacks length for size (31 3/8 inch arms) and has trouble creating space between him and blocker
– Shows more tightness turning corner than three-cone team (6.87) indicates, especially on speed rushes when he’s not ripping through contact
– Limited NFL experience on defense
Overall, Tuszka is a solid practice squad pickup. Obviously, there’s next-to-no risk or investment in him and the Steelers aren’t counting on him to log serious snaps this season. Tuszka shows a well-rounded game, has played on his feet, with special teams experience and production. His average athletic tools limit his potential upside and on pure odds, the chances of him making a serious impact on the Steelers are low just as they are for most practice squad players. Quincy Roche is a better pass rusher than Tuszka but signing him helps soften the blow a little bit, at least.
If you’re looking for more info and reading on Tuszka, specifically what he did in college at North Dakota State, check out our player profile on him below thanks to our Josh Carney.