The Steelers are approaching the beginning of the 2016 season and Stephon Tuitt appears to many to be the Steelers next defensive star. Let’s consider both how we got here, and the likelihood of 2016 being a breakout season.
Stephon Tuitt has been a Steelers defensive end for only two seasons now. He’s been the starting defensive end for only one. And yet, that is plenty enough time to notice the player that Stephon Tuitt is. He’s way more athletic than any player his size should be and he’s tough too. But is he a future star?
Many feel that he is. We’ll consider some of his appearances on various offseason lists and predictions but as with anything it helps to know the past in order to predict the future.
Stephon Tuitt came out of Notre Dame with an obviously high ceiling. He’s like a 3-4 defensive end that you made in a lab. He’s got size but his frame is long enough that it’s distributed well. A lot of it is muscle and he can take long strides and move well.
He broke out his sophmore year but dealt with some issue before his junior year including injury and gaining some weight. Because of this, and his strong but less impressive performance his junior year, some had questioned his conditioning or even desire. So his first round talent fell to the back half of the second round, to the Steelers.
Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com said of Tuitt in his draft profile, “Hulking, long-armed, physically gifted defensive lineman with desirable size, strength, athleticism and versatility to appeal as a five-technique or as a defensive tackle or base end in a 4-3. Gained approximately 20 pounds as a junior and was not in peak condition, but has disruptive upside.”
The Steelers took a shot in the second round in what many considered a potential steal, a steel steal. Tuitt spent most of his first season in a backup role, as is traditional for Steelers defensive rookies, despite recent bucking of that trend. He played in all 16 games but towards the end of the season he got some starts and made an impact.
Tuitt finished the season with 17 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Both the sack and fumble came in a crucial late season game against the Chiefs. The fumble came at a critical part of the game when Jamaal Charles broke down to shake someone and this enormous blur of black and gold ate him up and spit out the ball.
More from Steelers News
- Steelers news: Experts weigh in on draft needs, Kenny Pickett lobbies for WR, and more
- Remaining playoff teams have something in common that Steelers don’t possess
- A foolproof plan for Steelers to improve the OL in 2023
- Steelers HC Mike Tomlin must shoulder the blame if Matt Canada fails
- Steelers news: Matt Canada outrage continues, Ravens OC losses resigns, and more
In 2015 he built on that and became the starting end. He also plays tackle regularly. Tuitt played in 14 games, starting all of them and he and Heyward emerged as one of the top defensive end duos in the country.
Last year, he finished with 54 tackles, 6.5 sacks, an interception, and a pass defensed. He helped Pittsburgh win their wild card game and make the playoffs for the second year in a row. And still, he’s only 23 years old. The concerns about him prior to being drafted about his weight, health, and junior year stats appear to have not been a factor for him.
So naturally, given Tuitt’s youth and performance thus far, people have taken notice of his trajectory. He’s made multiple offseason lists. Most recently, Vincent Verhei of ESPN.com listed Stephon Tuitt as the Steelers most underrated player.
He wrote of Tuitt, “Cameron Heyward gets the attention up front, but Tuitt really came on last season, with 6.5 sacks, five hits and 19.5 hurries — along with 40 run tackles — all in just 14 games. He’s a player to watch this season.”
He also made it, along with Le’Veon Bell, onto NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison’s All-Under-25 Team. He said of Tuitt, “The Steelers’ defense sure fared better than most fans — yes, even Steelers fans — expected last season. Tuitt was a big reason (literally) why … the 6-6, 303-pound lineman cranked out 6.5 sacks and a whole bunch of hurries in a defense that relies on its OLBs for pocket pressure. Tuitt is certainly a building block in Pittsburgh.”
In an interview with Jon Ledyard of SCI.net, Tuitt said he had been working out with James Harrison in Arizona. This continues to speak to the fact that rumors of laziness or poor conditioning were either unfounded or corrected. He’s also confident the Steelers will make a Super Bowl run.
Tuitt said in the interview, “Now it is about working on the little things: hand placement, when to react, certain down percentages. When I can master those things, that’s when I can take my game to another level.”
Well it seems everyone expects Tuitt to take it to the next level in 2016, including Tuitt.