Steelers defensive end Tuitt shifts into high gear
Stephon Tuitt wears an irrepressibly easy smile that’s counterintuitive to an aggressive on-field persona that the Steelers hope will drive the 6-foot-5, 303-pound defensive end to be among the best pass rushers in the NFL this season.
The usually laid-back Tuitt has found a different gear during training camp at St. Vincent. There’s no semblance of the timidity that held him back during his rookie campaign. He has practiced all out, in part, because he has dared himself to dial it back.
“You can be laid back off the field,” defensive tackle Steve McLendon said, “but on the field you can be as violent as you want to be. Right now, Tuitt is playing with controlled violence.”
No one, of course, likes the retooled Tuitt more than defensive line coach John Mitchell.
Mitchell has been demanding over the first week and a half of camp. He challenges a defensive front that was inconsistent last year, especially in disheartening home losses to Tampa Bay and New Orleans.
At times, the Steelers were hammered on the defensive line. They didn’t always get after the quarterback, sometimes leaving the secondary vulnerable to the deep ball.
Tuitt is confident that will change this season, which begins Sept. 10 in New England.
“I see myself doing great things,” he said. “I’ve been coached hard to get that way.
“I’m ready for whatever Coach Mitchell throws at me. I’m a lot farther ahead as far as knowing the plays than last year. I’ve been focused on the little things.”
The little things include footwork and improved pass-rush techniques. More importantly, Tuitt looks like the physical, gritty player the Steelers imagined when they took him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Tuitt started four games at the end of his rookie season and the playoff loss to Baltimore.
“The first year everything was so fast for him,” McLendon said. “He’s eager to learn where the ball is going, and we’re going to depend on him a lot.
“There’s no question he’s more physical. It’s the one thing you want to bring to your game. We want to be a hard-nosed defense that fights for every yard.”
Tuitt is practicing as if he has fighting for a job. He’s been quick off the ball, and he looks more athletic even after adding a few pounds.
Tuitt can’t wait to showcase his talents against the Minnesota Vikings in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game Sunday in Canton, Ohio.
“I’m excited to play any football game,” Tuitt said. “I’m still at that stage where I play every game as if they count. I’m just anxious to play.”
The Steelers are anxious to see how Tuitt pressures the quarterback. After all, his ability to collapse the pocket will greatly influence how the secondary holds up.
“The defense is set up for (Tuitt) to pressure,” cornerback William Gay said. “If he and Cam (Heyward) are rushing hard, we’ve got to have their back in coverage. If we can hold up in the back end, we’ll get the sacks.”