Stephon Tuitt is still a Pittsburgh Steeler. That is a key point that has to be remembered. The Steelers are choosing to keep him on the team’s roster and his linemates Cameron Heyward and Tyson Alualu have both expressed support and belief he will return to the team.
But so far Stephon Tuitt hasn’t returned to team activities, and we have no official word on if or when he will return. So while I’m not at all predicting the Steelers won’t have Tuitt, it seems like a good time to explore the possibilities the Steelers face with Stephon Tuitt and the resulting impact each would have on the roster.
Stephon Tuitt returns to form
It’s important to remember that Stephon Tuitt is returning from a knee injury and a life changing tragedy. He is not going to be the same person he was in 2020. Traumatic events change people. The first possibility is that Tuitt returns at the level of play Steeler fans are used to seeing.
Obviously this is a great situation. Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward have made the Steelers defensive line a great one for years, and that continuing is the best possible outcome. In that situation, Tyson Alualu, who is returning from his own injury is the third defensive lineman, playing nose tackle but not having to play much in the Steelers two defensive lineman fronts. If both Tuitt and Alualu are healthy and playing well, the Steelers depth chart for defensive line is really good.
Starters: Tuitt, Heyward, Alualu
Top reserves: Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Montravius Adams
When you have those three rotating in from the bench, you are in really good shape. Chris Wormley was third in sacks on the Steelers in 2021 with seven, behind only T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward, but he wasn’t the best run defender. On the other hand, Isaiahh Loudermilk was stout against the run but didn’t offer much on passing downs. That’s not a big problem when they are rotating in to give someone a breather. It’s easier to play situational football with substitutes, and players that were at times liabilities as starters can be used more to their strengths as rotational pieces.
The biggest problem in this scenario is do the Steelers keep seven defensive lineman, because we just covered six defensive lineman and didn’t involve the Steelers 3rd round draft pick DeMarvin Leal. It’s never a bad thing to have the problem of having so much depth that you have to cut a good player. It’s far better than desperately searching for someone that can be a decent run defender (2021...ugh.)
In this possible result the Steelers end up with a defensive line room that has great high end talent and fantastic depth. A truly great situation to be in. This is what every Steeler fan should be hoping for, and the situation the Steelers themselves are hoping for as they keep that roster spot open for Tuitt.
Stephon Tuitt returns, but isn’t the same
In the second scenario we look at Stephon Tuitt returning but not playing at the same level he did before his year off the field. For this scenario we are going to say that level is below the line for a solid starting defensive lineman, whether permanently or for significant time as he reacclimates to the game.
In this situation the Steelers are likely still starting Tuitt, and maybe rotating him out more with Tyson Alualu and the top reserves all being asked to do more. The Steelers would most likely again turn to Chris Wormley to be the main rotational lineman to step in and take snaps.
In this situation I think we would see a rotation that saw Cameron Heyward leading the defensive line in snaps, with a three-way split behind him between Tuitt, Alualu and Wormley.
The Steelers would have the same problem of having too many good depth pieces, but it would matter much more because you don’t have that clear starter across from Heyward and those depth pieces become potential in season replacements.
Stephon Tuitt does not return to the Steelers
For the sake of ease we’re going to assume that in this scenario the Steelers don’t cut Tuitt, or do so with timing that doesn’t allow them to sign or trade for a replacement using his salary cap hit. So this is going to take the roster as it is now with just the subtraction of Stephon Tuitt.
While this is clearly not a good option, the roster is still in pretty good shape. That might sound strange to hear me say that after how strongly I’ve pushed for serious investment in the defensive line whether Tuitt returned or not. But hear me out, and let’s look at the depth chart in that scenario, I’ll do it by role in the defense.
Superstar: (1) Cameron Heyward
Good Starter: (1) Tyson Alualu
Usable starter/high end rotation player: (3) Chris Wormley, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk
Rookie wildcard: (1) DeMarvin Leal
That’s six defensive lineman and it’s still a very solid defensive line room. Consider that Tyson Alualu was also out last year when the line became a problem, and even if he isn’t at the same level returning from injury, I can’t imagine Alualu dropping from the dominant force he was to below average starter. Add to that Isaiahh Loudermilk in his second year after what he showed as a rookie. Even if he doesn’t develop a good pass rush, he’s going to have better conditioning and strength than he did as a rookie, He’ll at least be stout against the run. Lastly Montravius Adams was the guy who showed up and helped stop the bleeding last season, and he’s on this roster.
Things are going to be okay
If you want three big reasons why the Steelers won’t be in the same shape they were last season I just covered the main three.
- Isaiahh Loudermilk should be better in year two.
- Tyson Alualu should be on the roster, whether he’s great or simply good, he should help.
- Montravius Adams is also on the roster.
This isn’t going to be Cameron Heyward, Isaiah Buggs and Chris Wormley trying to stop power run sets, it’s a much better situation in 2022 than what we saw in 2021.
And again, I’m not putting any expectations on third round pick DeMarvin Leal. If he has a Cameron Heyward-esque quiet rookie season, the Steelers will be fine. If he adds something? They will be even better off.
Guys like Isaiahh Buggs and Carlos Davis were missed last season as the line was in shambles, those bottom of the depth chart players are going to have a much tougher time making the roster or even the practice squad in 2022.
The Steelers defensive line depth is as good as it has been in a long time, they are better prepared to deal with injury than they have in the past. That’s a good thing.