One theme of this offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers has been to up the physicality of the roster from the top to the bottom. They have managed to do that in a number of areas, whether it’s at safety or linebacker or along the defensive lines.
Viewed perhaps as a minor signing, the addition of nose tackle Breiden Fehoko was a part of that movement. He fits the mold of the old-school run-stopping nose tackle, a body and mentality the Steelers haven’t often had in recent years. And not only is he fully aware of it, he embraces it.
“I feel like Pittsburgh fit my style of play”, he recently said on the Steel Here podcast with Kevin Adams and Jersey Jerry. “What I take pride in is just playing inside in between the tackles, playing physical, playing rugged. I’m not really a flashy guy where I’m not gonna go and swim a guy or I’m not gonna be Aaron Donald, but I think what I do fits what Pitt wants out of me as a player. That’s just to play rugged every play, and that’s what I grew up doing; that’s what I grew up loving”.
He talked about growing up in football learning that mentality and found a colorful way to sum it up. “You be a hardnosed MF when that whistle blows”, he said. That’s all the Steelers are going to ask him to do when he’s on the field.
An undrafted free agent out of LSU, Fehoko spent his first three seasons in the NFL with the Los Angeles Chargers, where he became a bit of a fan favorite. They did not feel that a traditional run-stopping nose tackle with no pass-rush upside merited a more than $2.5 million restricted free agent tender, however.
He did tell Adams and Jerry that he had offers from two or three other teams, but all in the same window as what the Steelers gave him—a one-year, minimum-value deal worth $940,000. He opted to sign with Pittsburgh, however, for the reasons mentioned above, declaring himself a 3-4 guy.
The Steelers shifted from the ‘traditional’ 3-4 nose tackle formula after Casey Hampton retired more than a decade ago. Steve McLendon bridged the gap between Hampton and Javon Hargrave, both of whom were more athletic one-gapping penetrators but still able to hold the point.
They replaced Hargrave, who left via free agency, by testing the waters and moving Tyson Alualu into the middle in 2020. He held up very well, arguably having the best year of his career, but a fractured ankle early in 2021 threw a wrench into things.
Pittsburgh floundered at the position for much of the year, not having much success with Isaiah Buggs in the starting role, until they acquired Montravius Adams in-season. He did a solid job and is still currently their starting nose tackle, albeit only because Alualu’s return last season proved unsuccessful.
With Fehoko now in the mix, it will be interesting to see how they are deployed. Will they mix and match more, with the newcomer used more in obvious short-yardage and other running situations? Remember, this is a somewhat new regime with shifting priorities, even if the coaching staff hasn’t changed as much.