It all starts up front.
Such a simple statement is commonly used when referring to success on both the offensive and defensive side of the football. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they will rely on their defensive front to do more than just plug lanes in 2015, but to make plays in both defending the run and the pass.
The Steelers have a young, yet talented, front three in their 3-4 defensive scheme. Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon bring experience to the table, but it is second year defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt who is turning heads in his second training camp as a pro.
"You can be laid back off the field," nose tackle Steve McLendon told Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "but on the field you can be as violent as you want to be. Right now, Tuitt is playing with controlled violence."
Tuitt playing with a violent streak will be a welcome addition to a defensive front which was extremely inconsistent at times in 2014. According to McLendon, Tuitt's progression from rookie to second year player is a big difference.
"The first year everything was so fast for him," McLendon said. "He's eager to learn where the ball is going, and we're going to depend on him a lot.
"There's no question he's more physical. It's the one thing you want to bring to your game. We want to be a hard-nosed defense that fights for every yard."
As for Tuitt himself, he seems ready to take whatever the Steelers and Coach Mitchell want to throw at him.
"I'm ready for whatever Coach Mitchell throws at me. I'm a lot farther ahead as far as knowing the plays than last year. I've been focused on the little things."
"I see myself doing great things," he said. "I've been coached hard to get that way."
The Steelers will need a solid performance from Tuitt in 2015, and it doesn't seem asking as much is a lofty expectation for a player who has reached every level of expectation ever put on him. Tuitt's play could be a more integral part of the 2015 defense as new defensive coordinator Keith Butler looks to rush his defensive ends (Heyward and Tuitt) more to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and to stop the run in the backfield. If Tuitt can apply that pressure, it will certainly cover up any deficiencies the team may have in their secondary.
As for the secondary, they see the correlation between Tuitt and the line's success as it relates to their success in the back end of the defense.
"The defense is set up for (Tuitt) to pressure," cornerback William Gay said. "If he and Cam (Heyward) are rushing hard, we've got to have their back in coverage. If we can hold up in the back end, we'll get the sacks."
Sacks and turnovers are what the Steelers are looking to increase in 2015, and no matter what anyone says, always remember: It all starts up front.