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Keith Butler details the Steelers plans for both Stephon Tuitt and T.J. Watt

The Steelers are without two very important defenders, and their return is anything but certain.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is the straw which stirs the drink in 2021. At one time this label was reserved for Ben Roethlisberger, but now it is the team’s defense which is called in to ensure the Steelers have a shot in every single game they play.

In 2021, the Steelers defense could be even better than the 2020 version, but there is some uncertainty surrounding this current group. No, I’m not talking about the team’s cornerback depth, which is an issue, but I am referring to the team being without two of their better defenders. T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt.

For Watt, fans know why he hasn’t been participating in any type of team drills, and that is because he wants a new contract heading into his 5th year of his rookie deal. There have been reports of a deal getting done after the team travels to Charlotte, NC to play the Carolina Panthers, but at this point nothing is certain. Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Keith Butler feels as if Watt will be ready if/when a deal is done.

“I think he’ll be ready.” Butler told the media after practice Wednesday. “What I mean by that is this: The only way you can get in hitting shape is you have to hit. You can’t do nothing else. There’s nothing else you can do. You’ve got to hit to do that. And if you don’t get the hitting in before you go in your first game, then we’ve gotta be careful of how we use you and make sure that we keep him healthy as much as we can. The biggest thing for me is the hitting shape part of it. You can’t duplicate that until you get the pads on and go out and play. He hasn’t done that yet.”

Watt hasn’t missed a day of practice since camp began, but he has been working solely on individual drills/technique. He has refrained from contact drills to avoid any injury which could impact contract negotiations.

Can the Steelers get Watt in “hitting shape” prior to the Week 1 game vs. the Buffalo Bills?

“Well, you’ve got to do it in practices that have pads on.” Butler answered. “How many times have we had pads on? We only have a certain amount of times we can have pads on according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement for preseason.”

When comparing Watt’s situation with that of Stephon Tuitt, they are vastly different. Mainly based on the fact very little of Tuitt’s situation is known. Sadly, everyone heard about Tuitt’s brother being killed this summer in a hit-and-run accident in Georgia, but if Tuitt is dealing with an injury is not public knowledge.

Butler acknowledged the team and Tuitt have talked about when he will return to practice, and the hope is that will be next week.

“It’s not a problem. He’s here all the time. He’s always in the meetings and stuff like that. When is he coming back? When we need him to come back. Does he need to come back and get in shape and stuff like that? Sure, he does. But we’re not concerned about it right now. Hopefully, next week we’ll get him back. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.” Butler said.

When Mike Tomlin addressed the media he was asked if there was a timetable for Tuitt’s potential return. He didn’t mince words.

“No, I don’t want to speculate.”

While Watt’s situation seems very cut-and-dry, Tuitt’s is a mystery. Nonetheless, the Steelers clearly have a plan for both players to hopefully get them back after the preseason finale vs. the Panthers and allow them to utilize the two weeks to get acclimated to the game prior to the regular season.

If they aren’t able to return, for a variety of reasons, it would leave some big shoes to fill when the games actually count.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.