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The quiet ascent of Steelers defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux

The best Steelers defensive lineman no one is talking about.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Henry Mondeaux went undrafted in 2018. He signed with the Saints and sat on their practice squad. He signed a futures contract with the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2018 season, but was released in May. The Steelers gave him a tryout and signed him on May 13th, 2019.

In 2019 Mondeaux was stuck to the bottom of the depth chart, surviving on the practice squad to get another future contract with the Steelers after the season. In 2020 Mondeaux again was on the practice squad, but the Steelers protected him five straight weeks before activating him in Week 6 to replace Isaiah Buggs. He kept that roster spot for the rest of the season, the bottom of the active roster, playing on special teams much more than defense.

This offseason a lot of focus has been on 2020 7th round pick Carlos Davis, 2021 5th round draft pick Isaiahh Loudermilk, and Isaiah Buggs, with many people assuming Henry Mondeaux was an obvious cut this year.

Instead, Mondeaux started the first two preseason games with Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu sitting out. Heyward and Alualu returned against the Lions, and with Chris Wormley starting for Tuitt, Henry Mondeaux came in as the first reserve.

The Steelers seem to be set that not only is Henry Mondeaux not going to get cut, he is firmly in front of Buggs, Davis and Loudermilk on the depth chart.

Let’s look at his game, and give a bit of a spotlight to a player whose development is largely being ignored by fans and the media.


He can rush the passer

Henry Mondeaux showed a nice set of pass rush moves from the moment he joined the Steelers, but he wasn’t polished and didn’t have a lot of success with them.

Steelers vs. Eagles, 2nd quarter, 12:37
Henry Mondeaux is the defensive tackle to the bottom of the screen. (right above #44)

Here against the Philadelphia Eagles starting offensive line, Mondeaux makes a nice move, drawing the center’s arms out and then swatting them away to get into the backfield for a hit on the quarterback.

Steelers vs. Lions, 3rd quarter, 14:17
Henry Mondeaux is the defensive tackle to the top of the screen.

On this play Mondeaux splits the center and guard to put pressure on the quarterback. Mondeaux can still put some pressure on the quarterback, even if he isn’t going to look like Cameron Heyward or Stephon Tuitt out there, he uses his rush moves better and provides value as a pass rusher on his own.

But that’s not where his chief pass rush value lies.


Henry Mondeaux, professional stunt man

The Steelers run a lot of stunts in their pass rush, and Henry Mondeaux has shown a knack for stunts.

Steelers vs. Eagles, 1st quarter, 6:40
Henry Mondeaux is the defensive tackle to the top of the screen.

Here’s a basic tackle/end stunt. Henry Mondeaux runs upfield and engages the tackle, while edge rusher Alex Highsmith cuts inside behind him. Keith Butler isn’t going to just settle for a stunt though, he also has Robert Spillane on a hug blitz, and the quarterback is pushed out of the pocket.

Two things stand out on the Mondeaux/Highsmith stunt, first is Mondeaux winning his battle after the lineman switch, and the second is Alex Highsmith. Highsmith gets upfield so quickly you can see that Mondeaux has to chase down the offensive tackle just to initiate the stunt. This makes it obvious to the guard that it’s a stunt, and he sits on Highsmith’s cut inside.

Steelers vs. Lions, 3rd quarter, 14:09
Henry Mondeaux is the defensive tackle to the top of the screen.

This one from the Lions game was much better, Highsmith slows his rush just a bit, and it lets Mondeaux make an earlier move on the guard before attacking the tackle. That slight change in timing keeps the guard’s attention on Mondeaux and Highsmith gets a free run at the quarterback to force a dump off on third and long.

Steelers vs. Eagles, 2nd quarter, 12:02
Henry Mondeaux (#99) is the defensive tackle to the bottom of the screen.

Here’s Mondeaux leading a tackle stunt. Mondeaux is impressive here as he takes the left guard and center and drives them into the right guard. Mondeaux takes out three of the offensive lineman on this play, and if Chris Wormley takes a tighter turn to the quarterback, he has a real shot at a sack.

I was surprised watching film of last season how many times T.J. Watt recorded a sack with Mondeaux on the field instead of Stephon Tuitt. Mondeaux’s ability to lead these stunts is a huge weapon when you have an elite athlete and finisher next to him cutting inside. Look for Mondeaux to get more snaps next to T.J. Watt in 2021, because T.J. Watt is deadly on a stunt, and Mondeaux sets them up really well.

While Mondeaux is having a lot of success setting up these stunts, that can’t be said of all his team mates.

Steelers vs. Eagles, 2nd quarter, 7:53
Henry Mondeaux is the defensive tackle to the bottom of the screen.

Isaiah Buggs is setting up the stunt for Mondeaux here. It doesn’t go well. Buggs gets bogged down in the middle, and doesn’t get in tight to the lineman like Mondeaux does in the above clips. That ends up with Mondeaux running into Buggs and no pressure being generated at all from the stunt.

Henry Mondeaux shows great power on stunts, where he excels at taking on multiple lineman and controlling the logjam he creates to free up team mates. That kind of skill shows up on other snaps.


Stuffing the run

The main problem with Henry Mondeaux when he first joined the Steelers was his ability to hold the line. Against the run, and even against the pass, if he wasn’t getting past someone, he was going to lose the battle. As you can see from his work taking on lineman on stunts, that isn’t a problem anymore on those plays, and it isn’t a problem anymore in the run game either.

Steelers vs. Lions, 3rd quarter, 14:54
Henry Mondeaux is the defensive end, second from the top on the line.

Mondeaux on this play, much like he does setting up stunts, takes on multiple blockers and controls the pile. The offense can’t move him back or inside to clear room for the back, and with Alex Highsmith beating the left tackle, the run play is dead. Mondeaux has shown he is much better at holding his own when teams run at him than he was even last year.

Steelers vs. Lions, 4th quarter, 15:00
Henry Mondeaux is the defensive tackle to the bottom of the screen.

Mondeaux does a fantastic job here, he takes on the double team, holds his ground, stops the guard and tackle from getting to another defender, and even drives the pile to the play side to try and help pinch the run lane. You can see no one gets to Robert Spillane on this play, but an uncalled hold on Cassius Marsh and Carlos Davis getting swallowed up and driven back clear a path for the runner to score. Plenty goes wrong for the Steelers on this play, one thing that didn’t was Henry Mondeaux.


Conclusion

Henry Mondeaux isn’t competing for a starting job, or even the top backup spot, but he has separated himself from the rest of the pack as the clear #5 defensive lineman on the Steelers, and he’s a dang good player to have as your #5 lineman. It will be exciting to see how his usage expands in the regular season, following his incredible improvement in less than a year.

In the final preseason game of the season, the Carolina Panthers are expected to play their starters a good bit of the game. That will give Steeler fans a second chance to watch Henry Mondeaux facing off against an offensive line of NFL starters. While most of the defense is likely to be overmatched, Mondeaux has shown he is up to the challenge.