Stephon Tuitt has left the building.
Tuitt officially announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, which apparently wasn't much of a surprise to anybody outside of possibly Cameron Heyward. Almost immediately, plenty of card carrying members of Steelers Nation started to wonder....
"Now what are the Steelers going to do?"
That is a realistic and rational response in this situation. Many lifelong Steelers fans of a certain age witnessed something in the 2021 NFL season that we never thought we would see, and definitely never want to see again. That would be the Steelers finishing dead last in the NFL in run defense. To be honest, it really wasn't even close. The Steelers were the worst by a large margin, especially for extended portions of certain games.
The Steelers run defense not only lacked talent, but it lacked intensity. Why do I wholeheartedly believe that to be the case? Because of how many times I witnessed Cameron Heyward hustling 20 yards downfield to make a tackle. Even when he was exhausted, and seemed to have little chance of making a play, he was still rumbling down the field. As much as it showed up live, it was even more obvious on game film.
While those efforts speak volumes about Heyward's leadership and commitment to his craft, it raises up a more troublesome question. Where was everyone else? Don't get me wrong, there were short spurts of extra effort on display last season, but nowhere near sustained or frequently enough.
You could count on the Steelers defensive standouts: Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Minkah Fitzpatrick to give everything they had to give from start to finish, but too many of their supporting cast were found wanting. A lack of talent is one thing, but a lack of effort is unacceptable. Some players would be initially blocked, or caught up in the wash, and simply stop working to get back into the fray. Merely jogging downfield trailing the play, if they attempted to follow the action at all, just isn't going to cut it.
This concerning trend kept revealing itself as I re-watched game action from the Steelers 2021 season. Any attempt to reasonably explain why this disturbing trend has surfaced, or adequately offer possible solutions, will honestly take numerous articles to do it justice. This is merely the start of the process.
First, the Steelers must adequately address the absence of Stephon Tuitt. That is something they failed to do last season. As it stands now, the Steelers have four possible candidates already on the roster: Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Montravius Adams, and DeMarvin Leal.
Each young man has some of the traits and abilities that made Stephon Tuitt special, but none appear to have the complete package. If only the Steelers could take a page from the playbook of Dr. Frankenstein and create their own monster.
Chris Wormley has the professionalism. Wormley is a true professional football player. He is always prepared, whether as a starter or part of the rotation. He is both intelligent and instinctual, traits that have obviously endeared him to the Steelers. He displayed the athleticism and sustained determination to be an effective pass rusher last season, but was exposed against the run as a full-time starter. He would be better served as rotational depth.
Isaiahh Loudermilk has the imposing frame. Like Tuitt, Loudermilk has abnormal length and girth. One of Tuitt's traits that always stood out almost immediately was his incredibly long arms. Tuitt's arm length was a tad under 35", which is elite. Tuitt used those incredibly lengthy appendages to his advantage on the field frequently. Loudermilk uses his to gain leverage and tie up blockers. He needs to continue working hard to improve his ability to utilize his length and power to disengage from blockers and finish tackles, plus start to create some semblance of a pass rushing repertoire. The good news is, he already anchors well, thanks to his Tuitt like power and functional strength.
Montravius Adams has the explosiveness. Adams is a quick twitch athlete, and he uses his instant acceleration to penetrate the line of scrimmage. This ability allows him to disrupt plays, and create havoc in the backfield. However, he seemed to lack the power and girth necessary to effectively anchor against the running game, in his limited action last year for the Steelers. Hopefully, another focused offseason of specific training will allow Adams to noticeably improve in that area. If so, he could be the pleasant surprise of the group, and gain substantially increased minutes.
Finally, DeMarvin Leal has the pedigree. Like Tuitt, Leal was a All American his final collegiate season for Texas A&M. He was projected to be one of the best at the position prior to the start of that season, and an expected first round selection at that point in his collegiate career. Like Tuitt, everything didn't quite go as planned with their projected draft positioning.
Leal is the closest of the four to being potentially the total package. He is both a well rounded athlete and performer. He is solid against the run, and also a disruptive pass rusher. If he can improve his explosiveness ever so slightly through focused training, similar to Alex Highsmith, then the Steelers may have found something special.
It sure would be easier if the Steelers could find a way to combine all four into one....That's it! Eureka! I got it! Has everyone seen the movie Weird Science?
I may have already said too much.