In the third year of his NFL career, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end, Stephon Tuitt, is really coming into his own. Since he was drafted in 2014, Tuitt has showed flashes of what he is capable of from the start.
The second round product out of Notre Dame was a monster for the Fighting Irish. Playing in nine games his true freshman year, Tuitt didn't miss a single start in his sophomore and junior year campaigns. During Notre Dame's phenomenal 12-1 season in 2012, Tuitt led the Irish with three forced fumbles, and scored their lone defensive touchdown of the season on a 77-yard fumble return. Even though he has gone through two total offseason surgeries, in 2012 and 2014, he has been a reliable asset to both Notre Dame and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Electing to enter the draft after his junior year season, Tuitt was ranked as the fourth best defensive tackle in the 2014 draft class, where the Steelers selected him 46th overall, and initiated his transformation into a strong NFL defensive end.
Stephon appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, where he then earned a full-time starting spot his second season. Starting in all 14 games that he played in 2015, Tuitt missed weeks 7 and 8 due to a knee sprain. Totaling 6.5 sacks during the 2015 season, many may recall his week 4 performance against the Baltimore Ravens, where he tallied ten tackles plus a sack. This season, Tuitt has played and started in all 11 games thus far.
With veteran Cam Heyward as a mentor, it shouldn't come to much surprise that Stephon Tuitt is finding such success in the NFL. The two defensive ends complement each other extremely well, providing the Steelers reliable support on the outside.
While Tuitt has been consistent and reliable, his true moment to shine has not come until now. With the loss of Heyward for the rest of the season, Tuitt has taken the lost production and put it on his own shoulders.
When word of Heyward's injury began to spread, the doubts regarding the ability of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense only got louder. How is a team with an already porous run defense going to fare without their top defensive lineman? Heck, arguably their best defensive player overall?
Steelers Nation was sweating, but apparently the only sweating going on inside the locker room was from working hard at practices.
Week 11 against the Cleveland Browns, the first game without Cam Heyward, the Steelers defense answered the call to stand tall. After allowing 127 yards and two touchdowns the previous week to the Dallas Cowboys, the Browns were only able to rack up 33 yards on the ground. The stout rush defense took nothing away from the pass defense either, as the Steelers sacked the quarterback eight times. The entire defense played tough, and lived up to the Pittsburgh Steelers standard-- especially Stephon Tuitt, who got two sacks of his own.
Maybe it was a fluke, maybe it wasn't-- but the Steelers followed up week 11 with a Thanksgiving showdown that allowed only 91 rushing yards to the Indianapolis Colts. The defensive line and linebacker corp seems to have found life, even without Cam Heyward. Up next for the black and gold is what could be their toughest test that they have left this season. The New York Giants come to town, and they possess an offense that has way more firepower than the Cleveland Browns and the Andrew Luck-less Colts. This should prove to be a true test to see if the previous two games were a fluke for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
Regardless of the outcome, Tuitt has one more year remaining on his rookie contract after 2016, and it's never too early to start talking about extensions. As he continues to prove that he is one of the most reliable defensive ends in the NFL, has Stephon Tuitt earned himself a future with the Pittsburgh Steelers yet?