It is never easy to lose a player to early retirement, especially one who could have still been a force right in the middle of a defense. But that’s the situation the Steelers find themselves one week removed from defensive end Stephon Tuitt announcing his retirement. And despite the massive hole that will now need to be filled in permanently, former Steelers secondary coach and new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin isn’t too terribly stressed over the situation.
“He was (an) outstanding player, big, strong physical guy inside,” said Austin on 93.7 The Fan’s PM Show about Tuitt and life after the former Notre Dame product. “And there’s not a lot of guys on the planet that are like him. So you miss that, but it’s no excuse in terms of how we play it because the guys that are out there. We’re better prepared. We know more of what we are. Found out a little bit about the guys that had to play last year, and I think they’ll be better this year.”
Whether the Steelers had a clear indication whether or not they would be without Tuitt heading into 2022 is now irrelevant. Excluding Tyson Alualu, who, granted, is a nice piece to have back healthy, the same players who allowed teams to run all over the Steelers’ defense are all back. Sure, the Steelers drafted defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal in the third round of this year’s draft, but the odds of him taking over a starting role right away are probably slim to none. That means that some combination of Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Henry Mondeaux and Montravius Adams have to step up and take rotational snaps. The Steelers will have the rest of the offseason and most importantly training camp to concoct a plan there.
While there is obvious reason to take comfort in Austin’s confidence level in the returning interior defensive linemen, it’s not like he’d have a reason to feel any other way about them. It would be a very low bar to clear for those players to help the Steelers finish anywhere but last in the NFL against the run in 2021. All Austin can hope for is that all of the growing pains are now out of the way and the players that shine throughout camp and earn starting roles can remain healthy, which wasn’t exactly a sure thing last year, either.