Stephon Tuitt carries on Steelers Defensive End tradition


In the fourth round of the 1999 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected a defensive end that would be a mainstay on their defense from the next decade.

Aaron Smith was the perfect example of high round talent at a mid round selection. His #91 jersey was constantly seen making plays, and would rack up a total of 44 sacks, 20 defended passes and 7 forced fumbles during his time in the black and gold.

His impressive career would come to an end after the 2011 season when he was released by the Steelers. His final three seasons in the league were not kind to him, as he constantly battled with injuries heading into his mid thirties.

#91 would lay dormant for two seasons until it was issued to another defensive end who was selected in the second round of the 2014 draft. The young man had the look of an eventual starter about him and, despite the need for other positions on defense, the Steelers jumped at the chance to snag him with the 46th overall pick.

Stephon Tuitt had first round talent written all over him, but that didn’t stop Steelers Nation from voicing their opinion. After selecting Ryan Shazier in the first round, many expected them to take a cornerback in the second, but were thrown for a loop yet again.

The Steelers made it out of the first two round with amazing talent, but many were not satisfied. Pitchforks were taken up yet again when he was issued Smith’s former number. Steelers’ fan are fond of their former player’s numbers but, with the many prolific athletes the Steelers have had in nearly nine decades, its bound to happen.

Tuitt was heavily favored coming out of camp to be the starting right defensive end opposite of Cameron Heyward. The last minute signing of Brett Keisel to a two year contract would see him taking on a limited role in his rookie season.

Much was the way of Smith’s first season, as well. He was not a day one starter, either. With Orpheus Roye and Kevin Henry slated as starters, he would see limited time in his inaugural year. In fact, with so much depth at DE, he would only appear in six games.

The former Notre Dame star did not have the luxury his predecessor did. The Steelers were thin at the position, which forced Tuitt to appear in all sixteen games last season. Another unfortunate circumstance would throw him into the fray of a starting position.

Keisel would tear his triceps in week thirteen against the New Orleans Saints, effectively ending his season, and career, for the Steelers. With their hand being forced, Pittsburgh started Tuitt for the first time in his career the next week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Coincidentally, his next four starts would result in four straight wins that would give the Steelers what they needed to secure the AFC North and their first playoff appearance in two seasons. Tuitt had a career game against the Kansas City Chiefs in week sixteen where he recorded his first career sack and forced fumble.

Though their playoff run would be halted by the Baltimore Ravens in a 30-17 loss, hopes were high for the future at defensive end.

Dec 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt (91) rushes at the line of scrimmage against the Kansas City Chiefs during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 20-12. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With Keisel released during the offseason, this leaves Tuitt as the heir apparent to the void left at defensive end. With the strong push at the end of his rookie year, it would seem that he is more than ready to handle starting duties in his sophomore year.

His situation again mimics that of Smith’s. He would become a full time starter in the 2000 season when Orpheus Roye left in free agency to join the Cleveland Browns. From there his career in the NFL was, as they say, history.

Will Stephon Tuitt have the illustrious career that Aaron Smith had during his time wearing #91? Its impossible to say at this point, but his 6’5″, 300 pound frame, quickness off the line, and hard hitting ability are a recipe of destruction for offensive lines and quarterbacks, alike.

Look for Tuitt to make a name for himself early in his career, teaming up with Heyward to make a fierce bookend duo that will give the Steelers a threat on defense for years to come.

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