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The return of Tyson Alualu is now more important to the Steelers 2022 defense

The 35-year-old defensive lineman is coming back from an ankle injury which cost him all but two games of the 2021 season.

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

The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers are a team going through an unusual amount of change. Whether it be the quarterback position, general manager, defensive coaching staff, or a variety of personnel differences, the Steelers are faced with making the best of their changes in order to put together the most successful team for the upcoming season.

One place in which there was plenty of uncertainty following the 2021 season was the Steelers defensive line. Although the Steelers have All-Pro defensive tackle Cameron Heyward at their disposal, Heyward was the lone expected starter of the three defensive lineman in 15 of the Steelers 17 regular season games. With Tyson Alualu going down in Week 2 with a season-ending ankle injury and Stephon Tuitt never making it onto the field, Heyward was surrounded by other “next man up” candidates throughout the season.

As the 2022 NFL offseason churns through the first few months, the Steelers appeared to retain their players from the defensive line which finished the 2021 season. Additionally, the Steelers used a Day 2 draft pick in DeMarvin Leal to help infuse some youth into one position group which arguably had more players than spots available. Ultimately, the improvement on the defensive line, particularly the run defense, remained a big issue this offseason. But most in Steelers’ Nation were simply hoping for the return of the other two starters along the defensive line.

With Stephon Tuitt seemingly the biggest wild card when it came to the Steelers defense moving forward, that question has been answered as an official retirement was announced on June 1. Rather than wonder about what the Steelers could expect from Tuitt after a year away from the game, it is no longer an issue as the Steelers must move forward as they prepare for 2022.

But with the loss of Stephon Tuitt, the return of Tyson Alualu becomes even more important.

With the Steelers defensive line constantly having new players added through the draft, there is bound to be some turnover along the way. But losing two expected starters is not an easy thing to overcome. If the Steelers were to improve this upcoming season, getting at least one of them back would be a step in the right direction. But now that Tuitt is out of the equation, Tyson Alualu is the only player from arguably best defensive line in the NFL from the 2020 season who can come along side Cam Heyward to hold things down.

The problem is exactly what the Steelers will get from Alualu in 2022. Turning 35 in May, exactly how much is left in the tank from Tyson Alualu is a question mark. For the fans who were simply hoping one of the starters would return to the level which they played in 2020, all their hopes are now on an aging nose tackle who may likely have already seen his best days in the NFL.

Despite being 35 years old, Tyson Alualu brings first-round pedigree to the Steelers as he was selected with the 10th overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2010 NFL draft. After seven years in Jacksonville, Alualu spent the last five in Pittsburgh. But getting to year five was a rocky road as it appeared Alualu was re-joining the Jaguars in 2021. But some unforeseen circumstances kept Alualu from traveling to sign the contract and the Steelers were able to convince him to return on a two-year deal.

Tyson Alualu does not have to be the only saving grace of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With young players such as Isaiahh Loudermilk and DeMarvin Leal, perhaps they could be prepared to step up and be a difference maker on the defensive line. Additionally, with $8 million freed up on the salary cap with Stephon Tuitt’s retirement, the Steelers may choose to bring in another player to throw into the mix. But when it comes to players who have “been there and done that” with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tyson Alualu is the only guy who’s played at a fairly high level along side Cam Heyward in a Steelers uniform.

It’s difficult to expect Tyson Alualu to step back into being the player Pro Football Focus had ranked as the 29th best interior defense of lineman going into the 2021 season. Perhaps a season of not having the physical wear on his body will have Alualu refreshed for the upcoming season. But just as likely, Alualu‘s body could be feeling the effects of father time and not be what it once was. It will take getting on to the football field and possibly a majority of the 2022 NFL season until this will be answered for sure.

I’m pulling for Tyson Alualu to have a great 2022 season. I’m sure Steelers’ Nation is pulling for Tyson Alualu to have a great year. The Pittsburgh Steelers are faced with filling in another spot on the defense of line with the retirement of Stephon Tuitt, so if Alualu is not able to get back close to his 2020 form for one reason or another, the Steelers will find themselves down to trying to piece the best players they can around their captain yet again.