I remember sitting in my favorite spot on my couch, Terrible Towel in hand and Roethlisberger jersey on, waiting to watch rounds two and three of this year’s draft. After thinking we made a mistake not drafting our choice of top cornerbacks in the first round, I anxiously waited to hear the name called at 46.
As you know, the Steelers drafted Stephon Tuitt, defensive lineman from Notre Dame. Considering the recent draft misses on the defensive line (think Ryan McBean, Rashon Harris, Ziggy Hood, Doug Worthington, Alameda Ta’amu), Kevin Colbert owes the fan base some draft picks that hit the mark. Tuitt is certainly a start.
Tuitt is a great value pick at 46, and I was pretty surprised to see him fall so far. While it’s true his performance fell off his junior year, you cannot deny his work in 2012: 13 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. He could be the Steelers’ next great defensive lineman like Aaron Smith and Brett Kiesel before him. He showed great strength at the combine pushing 31 reps, the fourth highest among defensive linemen. At 6’5 and 300lbs, his body shape is nearly identical to Smith and Keisel. Tuitt definitely has the athleticism and size the Dick Lebeau loves in the defensive end position.
Tuitt is a disciplined defender, and he plays self-aware. He is not going to blow by many guys on the edge because he lacks the footwork to have a quick first step around the corner. Where he excels is shooting gaps and upsetting the offense’s rhythm. He uses his hands well to keep lineman off his jersey and in his rearview mirror. The Steelers don’t need 100 tackles from Tuitt; they need 60 while being a huge disruption up front.
In my opinion, three questions still remain about Tuitt:
Durability: With a sports hernia and a stress fracture already under his belt at Notre Dame, he has to prove he can stay on the field. Though he missed no games before and after the injury, the NFL has 20 games each year instead of 13 in college. He must be active in conditioning to stay on the field in Pittsburgh. Smith missed only 5 games between 2000-2008, and Keisel only 18 in the last nine years. Tuitt was also reported to be overweight and out of shape after the sports hernia, but hopefully that was because of the injury and not his mindset.
Ego: The DE in the 3-4 is a thankless and low profile position. The linebackers typically get the stats, and the credit to go along with them. Tuitt has been in a high profile position next to Louis Nix III at Notre Dame. Additionally, he was ejected once for targeting an opposing quarterback. Tuitt must play within his strengths and Lebeau’s system. My hope is that he realizes that the Steelers’ locker room is a place that the ego is checked at the door, and if not it will hit him in the end on the way out.
Making his mark: As much as Nix’s stock dropped in the months prior to the draft, the man was a monster in the middle at Notre Dame. His presence drew attention from opposing offenses allowing Tuitt to work more freely without as many double teams. He may be doubled on more times than not in the AFC North, and will have to use the strength and talent to eat up blockers to let the LB’s flow to the ball.
Some people feel that Tuitt will back up Cam Thomas at the starting end position, but Thomas is a better fit at NT with his 6’4 330lb frame. Training camp and pre-season will give Tuitt the opportunity to win the starting job. Flash forward ten years, I’ll be sitting in my favorite spot on the couch and he will be there knocking passes down, eating running backs for lunch and tearing up quarterbacks. He needs some polishing to get the most from his athletic gifts, but if anyone can get the most from a player, Dick Lebeau is the guy to do it.