When the Steelers announced their 53-man roster for the 2021 season, the defensive linemen represented the position group with the greatest depth, totaling eight players:
DE: Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Henry Mondeaux
NT: Tyson Alualu, Isaiah Buggs, Carlos Davis
On September 1st veteran powerhouse Stephon Tuitt was placed on IR following knee surgery which was reported to be a minor procedure, a planned move and clearly why they started with eight. The team made it clear they were expecting him back at some point, having just restructured his contract and converting some of his salary to signing bonus to create cap space.
On September 7th, Henry Mondeaux was waived and then signed to the practice squad to make room for cornerback Akhello Witherspoon, acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks.
The remaining six defensive linemen traveled to Buffalo for the Week 1 matchup (Loudermilk was inactive) and spent the day effectively pressuring Bills QB Josh Allen, helping the Steelers to leave with an upset win.
Carlos Davis was ruled out for the Week 2 home opener against the Raiders with a knee injury. Early in the first quarter Tyson Alualu was carted off to the locker room with an air cast on his right ankle. He was done for the day and possibly the season, headed to surgery and then IR. The injuries continued, with Isaiah Buggs hobbling off the field and returning later with his ankle taped.
What was once a position group of power is now looking like a M*A*S*H* unit. Henry Mondeaux was elevated from the practice squad, taking the roster spot vacated by Alualu. It is not yet clear if Carlos Davis will practice or play this week. Rookie Loudermilk saw his first action two days ago and will likely be given a helmet again when the Bengals come to town.
Last week during his media availability, Tyson Alualu spoke with optimism about Tuitt’s return, describing how hard his teammate was working every day on his fitness and rehab. Tuitt himself mentioned to Stan Savran almost two weeks ago that he was feeling good and looking forward to coming back. The question is, when will Tuitt return? Because that is now becoming a more urgent need.
In a memo to the teams on August 10th, the league clarified the “Designated for Return” policies for 2021. To be eligible for return, a player cannot begin to practice until three games have elapsed since he was placed on Reserve. Interestingly, a bye week doesn’t count as a missed game. Once the player returns to practice, the team has 21 days to add him to the active roster or he cannot return from IR that season. Tuitt had to be on the initial 53-man roster to be eligible, so he was placed on IR as soon as possible, on September 1st. Given that, here are the important dates:
September 27th – the earliest Tuitt can practice with the team
October 3rd – the first game that Tuitt can play
October 17th – the deadline to add Tuitt to the roster if he practices starting on September 27th
Head Coach Mike Tomlin has been tight-lipped with regard to Tuitt, giving no indication when he might return to practice or play. It‘s possible the team was originally hoping to ease him back in, especially since he wasn’t exactly in peak condition during the preseason and was still recovering from the devastating loss of his younger brother in June. The roster behind him isn’t as deep as it was a mere three weeks ago, though, and his absence is a bigger factor already.
Taking all of that into consideration, let’s all hope that Tuitt is pumping iron and his knee is healing fast so that he can resume practice at the earliest date possible. It would be really good to see him on the practice field the day after the upcoming Week 3 Bengals game. I’m sure his teammates would agree.