The Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the top defensive lines in all of football in 2020. They could again in 2022 if they’re able to get their guys back. Two of their three starters did not play this past season, or played very little, due to injury, and that had a catastrophic impact on the performance of the defense as a whole.
At least one of those injured starters, nose tackle Tyson Alualu, made his intentions very clear this afternoon with a post on Instagram, letting it be known that he is coming back for a 13th season in the NFL after his 2021 season ended prematurely with a fractured ankle.
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“I definitely don’t plan to go out this way”, he wrote in part, noting that he’s working “smarter and harder for a great comeback” for season 13. He also writes that he knows “without a doubt” that he will come back better and stronger.
Originally drafted in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010, Alualu first signed with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. He filled in as a spot starter multiple times for Stephon Tuitt due to injury, but selflessly shifted inside to nose tackle after Javon Hargrave departed in free agency in 2020.
Alualu very nearly returned to the Jaguars last offseason, agreeing to terms on a contract, but a delay in finalizing the deal after he contracted COVID-19 gave his teammates, particularly Cameron Heyward, enough time to convince him to stay in Pittsburgh for less money.
He is under contract for the 2022 season, after playing just one full game and part of a second this past year, after suffering a fractured ankle that put him on the Reserve/Injured List for the remainder of the season. The nose tackle position was a revolving door in his absence, filled alternately by Isaiah Buggs, Carlos Davis, Henry Mondeaux, and finally Montravius Adams, with Heyward even throwing his hat into the ring at one point.
Without Alualu, and without Tuitt, who spent the entire year on the Reserve/Injured List, the defense struggled significantly up front. They finished the regular season having allowed more rushing yards, for more yards per carry, than any other defense in the NFL, allowing more than 200 rushing yards in a game several times.
While it would be far too simplistic to suggest that getting Alualu and Tuitt back—both of whom remain under contract—would fix the defense, particularly the run defense, it should certainly help quite a bit, provided that they are healthy.
Alualu will be 35 years old in May, but he has taken very good care of his body over the years, and played some of his best football during the 2020 season before he got injured late in the year. It’s easy to believe that he would remain their best option at the defensive tackle spot heading into next season.