As the shockwaves continue to reverberate through the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room following the surprising retirement announcement from defensive end Stephon Tuitt, guys like Chris Wormley and Isaiahh Loudermilk, not to mention rookie DeMarvin Leal, are left to pick up the pieces once again in place of the former standout defensive end.
Of course, Wormley and Loudermilk have some key experience already, having filled in for Tuitt last season as the defensive end missed the entire 2021 season due to a knee injury while also dealing with the tragic loss of his younger brother in a hit-and-run in Georgia.
Speaking with reporters inside the Steelers’ locker room Thursday following the final day of OTAs at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, according to video via Steelers.com, Wormley and Loudermilk addressed the decision by Tuitt to retire, while also stating that they know an opportunity awaits them on the field once again.
Though Wormley was the only player out of himself and Loudermilk to have played on the same team as Tuitt for one season, the pair expressed their happiness for Tuitt as he moves into the next chapter in his life.
“No, I didn’t know. I was a little stunned just because I knew the season that he had two seasons ago, a lot of career highs, especially when it comes to sacks,” Wormley said to reporters, according to video via Steelers.com. “But you know, I wish him well. I hope I hope his next chapter in life is everything that he’s hoping for. More time with the family; he just graduated from Notre Dame. So I’m excited for that. That’s a great accomplishment.
“Nothing but well wishes for him and his family moving forward.”
Tyson Alualu said Stephon Tuitt called his teammates a couple days ago about his decision to retire.
“I said, ‘You sure you wanna do this?’“ pic.twitter.com/HSSb00aO4d
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) June 2, 2022
Loudermilk, a fifth-round draft pick in 2021, never really got a chance to share a locker room with Tuitt or step onto the same field with him in a competitive environment, but he knows the loss that Tuitt is to the room and to the players on the field overall.
“Yeah, of course it was kind of a surprise to me. I wasn’t really sure. We all kind of knew it could go one way or the other, but I’m just happy that he made a good choice for himself and his family,” Loudermilk said to reporters, according to video via Steelers.com. “I’m definitely gonna miss him. I know the guys are gonna miss him, miss having him around and definitely as a player being as dominant as he is, we’re gonna miss him on the field too. But, everyone here and me wish nothing but the best for him.”
The loss within the locker room can’t quite truly be measured overall. What can be measured is his impact on the field, which was rather large when he was healthy. Though he never went to the Pro Bowl and didn’t receive any All-Pro accolades, Tuitt was quietly one of the more dominant defensive ends in football, especially in 2020 when he racked up a career high 11.0 sacks and 10 tackles for loss, helping him finish with 34.5 sacks for his career.
Now, the Steelers must try and find a way to replace those snaps once again. In steps Wormley — who played 729 defensive snaps last season and recorded seven sacks and six tackles for loss — and Loudermilk, who played 288 defensive snaps and recorded one sack in his rookie season.
“I think for me, it allows me to have another opportunity to showcase what I can do,” Wormley said, according to video via Steelers.com. “I’m not saying that I didn’t want [Stephon] Tuitt back, but I know what I can do when I’m given a full season of the opportunity to play. So I’m excited for my growth for another year.
“Going into year six for me, time’s ticking when it comes to being able to produce and make a life for myself. And I’m excited for that opportunity,” Wormley added. “And like I said, with Tyson [Alualu] back there’s gonna be a group of guys that are gonna be able to contribute in ways that I think we weren’t limited to last year. But when you have two guys like Tuitt and Tyson out, it puts you at a hindrance.”
Career-high seven sacks for Chris Wormley in his first full-year starting. Not at Tuitt's level but some high level rushes. Back-to-back wins against the RG. Club/swim and bend + hump move. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/Z3HfLsalhj
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) January 18, 2022
After seeing significant snaps right away as a rookie, Loudermilk now knows what to expect in the NFL. He’s added weight to help him hold up at base defensive end, and should be able to play the run a bit better in his second season now that he’s added strength, too.
“I’ve been preparing the same all throughout the offseason, and it’s still the same for me, you know?” Loudermilk said. “I’m still gonna go about my business the same, whether there is that open spot there or not. Nothing’s really changed for me. I’m still doing the best I can every day. I’m still working with the guys here. So whatever role I’m thrown into, I’m gonna ready for.”