It was a year ago at this time that Steelers’ defensive end Stephon Tuitt was said to be poised to take that next step — and for someone with his enormous talent and potential, that could only mean to the top of his profession.
And during the short time he was in the game against the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Week 1, he looked like he was just too dominant for anyone to stop.
Unfortunately, Tuitt soon left the game with an unspecified injury which later that evening would be revealed to be a torn biceps. I found out about the injury from Bryan Anthony Davis, who was alerted to it while we were discussing Pittsburgh’s 21-18 victory during the Final Score podcast, and I must say, I felt kind of sick.
This was the type of injury that legendary defensive end Aaron Smith sustained years prior, and caused Smith to be placed on Injured Reserve. So I just naturally assumed Tuitt would suffer the same season-ending fate.
Surprisingly, though, Tuitt missed only a few weeks and wound up playing in 12 games last season. But they weren’t a great 12 games — only two sacks and 19 tackles — so one had to wonder just how healthy he was following his return from the injury.
This is why it wasn’t a shock when Tuitt admitted in May to playing all of 2017 with the injury not fully healed.
It all made sense, Tuitt’s regression last season, a season that not only came with great expectations, but also came on the heels of his contract extension.
Speaking of surprises, I was kind of stunned to hear a vocal minority of fans imply that Tuitt had become a bit complacent and perhaps even lazy following his big payday, a la LaMarr Woodley, a criticism I’m not even sure was fair to the Steelers’ once-dominant outside linebacker.
But Tuitt, a man of high character, lazy and complacent? Granted, it was a small minority of fans (we always hear from the negative minority), but still.
That’s why Tuitt’s performance against the Titans on Saturday was so awesome to witness. In the time he was in the game, Tuitt seemed to make a habit of winding up in Tennessee’s backfield, as he recorded two tackles (both for losses), a quarterback sack and two quarterback pressures.
Afterwards, he was named the Player of the Game by the KDKA broadcast team; and I don’t know if it’s an official award for the Steelers Radio Network, but they basically said the same thing on WDVE.
Does this mean Tuitt is the most indispensable Steeler defender? No. It just means he’s one of many talented Steelers’ defenders, and without the services of Ryan Shazier, a man considered worthy of the “indispensable” label, it’s going to take a village to make Keith Butler’s unit excel in 2018.
If the Stephon Tuitt of Saturday is closer to the pre-injury Stephon Tuitt of last summer rather than the post-biceps injury Stephon Tuitt of last fall and winter, the Steelers’ defense has a chance to be better this season. And if it’s going to take a village, a healthy Stephon Tuitt seems like a good citizen to have around this year.