Throughout the preseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers have suffered some crucial injuries to their team's starting roster. It started with Shaun Suisham's torn ACL in the Hall of Fame Game against the Minnesota Vikings, then came the Green Bay Packers game which saw the team lost Maurkice Pouncey for roughly half the season, and Stephon Tuitt for at least a couple weeks.
Pouncey and Suisham's injuries are significant, to say the least, but in Pouncey's situation there is an experienced backup ready to step up and fill the vacancy left by the team's Pro Bowl center. That very sentiment is the reason Stephon Tuitt's sprained ankle might hold more significance to it than the other two injuries.
The Steelers offense is a juggernaut waiting to take off, and although the loss of Pouncey will certainly hurt such a liftoff, the offense should be able to move the ball without No. 53 snapping the football.
As for the Steelers' defensive line, that certainly is not the case. Tuitt, a second year pro from Notre Dame, is expected to start in 2015, and behind him is a mix-and-match unit of players with inexperience or lackluster performances to their resume.
The next up in line with Tuitt out of the lineup is Cam Thomas. Thomas saw significant playing time in 2014, but the results were far from stellar. Some suggest Thomas' play at times last season made it look as if he was wearing roller skates while trying to knife through the offensive line, being pushed around with ease. The team thought so highly of Thomas this offseason that they brought back Clifton Geathers and drafted a defensive tackle in the 2015 NFL Draft in L.T. Walton. If anything, the team wanted to push Thomas to improve.
Speaking of Geathers, he was supposed to be the safety valve along the defensive line in case of injury, or throughout the rotation which takes place every game within the unit. Geathers was injured in training camp, and was waived due to the injury. With the release went the safety valve and experience with it.
Next in line is rookie L.T. Walton, Joe Kruger, Ethan Hemer, Matt Conrath and Niko Davis. Walton, who is quietly having himself a solid preseason, will benefit the most from the Tuitt injury, but after Walton the expectations and play significantly drop off.
It is this problem which is why Tuitt's injury is significant, and possibly the most significant, if it lingers into the regular season. The Steelers don't have quality depth at every position, but along the defensive line is uncharacteristically thin. The good news is Tuitt spoke with the media Tuesday and dispelled any rumors of a long-term lingering injury, but with only two weeks remaining in the preseason, and an ankle sprain of any kind, it might be difficult for Tuitt to find his way on the field when the team plays the New England Patriots in Foxborough.
The Steelers' depth along the defensive line will be tested the final two weeks of the preseason, but let's hope the test ends before September 10th with the return of Tuitt to the starting lineup.