The once dominant Pittsburgh Steelers defense has clearly begun the process of unraveling over the past couple of seasons. The sad fact is that key players have gotten older, free agents have moved on and several positional coaches have chosen to seek greener pastures. However, the Steelers’ philosophy is not to admit defeat and rebuild, but rather to regroup and reload through the draft.
Not long ago, superstars like James Harrison, Brett Keisel, Lamar Woodley and Ryan Clark made Pittsburgh’s defense a unit to fear. However, those household names have since moved on, replaced by younger – and seemingly more durable – players like Jarvis Jones, Jason Worilds and Mike Mitchell. Yet, while the names are obviously different, the tough-nosed Dick LeBeau defensive mentality remains.
In fact, the Steelers mentality is most evident when analyzing the type of players Pittsburgh has drafted in recent seasons. Management has done an excellent job of identifying tough, hard-nosed, intelligent football players like Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, the aforementioned Jarvis Jones and of course this year’s top draft picks: linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
Though much is expected of Shazier, the Steelers 2014 first-round draft pick, the greatest overall impact could come from the team’s second rounder; former Notre Dame standout Tuitt. He was an absolute beast at defensive end during his time in South Bend. In 2012, Tuitt – along with head coach Brian Kelly’s No. 1 ranked defense – led the Fighting Irish to a BCS National Championship appearance against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
While Notre Dame went on to lose the National Championship in embarrassing fashion, it did nothing to tarnish Tuitt’s incredible 2012 campaign which included 12 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. At the end of the year, he was named a Second Team All-American as a mere sophomore.
The following season, however, the Fighting Irish lost several key defensive players including Heisman Finalist and Defensive Team Captain Manti Te’o. Yet, despite the losses, Tuitt remained a force to be reckoned with along the Notre Dame defensive line. He again posted phenomenal numbers – often fighting through double-teams – finishing his junior year with 7.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss and his first career interception.
After deciding to forgo his senior season, Tuitt entered the 2014 NFL Draft where he was drafted in the second round (46th overall) by the Steelers. Tuitt figures to compete for immediate playing time at defensive end and should bring much needed size and athleticism to their once-fearsome front seven.
At 6-foot-5, 303 pounds, he brings the size and length to set the edge against the run, as well as the speed, strength and athleticism to provide a consistent pass-rush. With Tuitt’s resume and character, it would not be at all surprising to see the 21-year-old from Miami, Fla. enter the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year by mid-season.