PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers took another step in revamping their future on defense by selecting Notre Dame end Stephon Tuitt with the 46th overall pick in the second round during the NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-5, 303-pound Tuitt joins ends Cam Heyward and Cam Thomas and nose tackle Steve McLendon and Hebron Fangupo in the D-line's transformation. In the past few years, the Steelers parted with long-time players Chris Hoke, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood.
"I had some guys who were here for a long, long time,'' Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell said. "When you have guys who have played for you for 12 or 11 years and lose those types of guys, now you've got to start over. A lot of those guys that I had, we grew up together.
"So, the transition now, you get some young guys in and haven't had a lot of time under their belt. So, it's going to take a little farther to go. ... There are three things I look for when I evaluate a player. One, can this player stay on his feet? Two, is he physical? And three, will he run to the ball?
"A lot of guys put a premium on how a guy rushes the passer, but in this league if you do not stop the run you don't have a chance to win many football games,'' Mitchell added. "And the thing that I like about Stephon is that he can stack. He can shed, and he can run to the ball.''
Tuitt, who won't turn 21 until May 23, said it was exciting and a blessing to be able to play for the Steelers defense.
"I can't wait to get there and help this team and be part of this organization that not a lot of players get the chance to be part of,'' Tuitt said. "(So), I feel great. I'm comfortable with all the coaches there. I believe in them, and they believe in me. So, I can't wait to be coached by them and learn the system.''
Tuitt already made a notable play at Heinz Field. In Notre Dame's game there last year against Pitt, eventually a Panthers victory, Tuitt and Pitt quarterback Tom Savage collided on a short-yardage play early in the game. Officials ruled that Tuitt targeted Savage, even though both players lowered their heads. Savage to get the first down and Tuitt to stop him. Tuitt was ejected.
"I made a play like defensive players are supposed to do,'' Tuitt said. "I made sure an offensive player didn't get a first down. As a defensive player, I think that's the worst call in America.''
Mitchell noted that two injuries hampered Tuitt. A hernia prior to last season slowed Tuitt for half the games, and a foot injury (a fracture was found at the NFL Combine) limited his various workouts. But Mitchell still called him a dominant player and "one of the best defensive linemen in college football (in 2012) when he was named a first-team All-American by several sources.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is thrilled that Tuitt and first-rounder Ryan Shazier can pad the club's defensive depth.
"We're getting quality players and quality depth,'' Both of these players, if all develops as anticipated, will get a whole lot of playing time. Sometimes, in the past, we've been in a position where our draft choices don't necessarily have to play for a year or so. But that's not the case in this situation.
"Our depth is challenged, and we've got two excellent football players who are going to add depth if not become quality starters right away. So, we're really pleased with these choices. ... You've got to have some big guys out there, no matter how much of a speed package you have out there. If the opponent is playing extra wide receivers on first down, that's a spread formation.
"But they run the ball a lot,'' LeBeau added. "So, third-down-and-long situations when they're in a passing mode ... you've always got to have some power on the field. (And) a big guy like Tuitt suits that purpose no matter what the down and distance is, because he has value on all downs.''
LeBeau noted that Shazier is "the fastest linebacker in this draft and will instantly become one of the fastest in the league, so he'll make us faster right away. And the two defensive linemen (Tuitt and Thomas) will make us a bigger and stronger team, so we really like these acquisitions.''
LeBeau also was asked if a cornerback could go to the Steelers soon.
"I think there are still some good cornerbacks out there, but I feel good about the corners that we have,'' LeBeau said. "(And) we have more numbers there than some people realize, and we might have some great players already on our roster. But they just haven't had a chance to show us that they're great.''