Steelers’ Stephon Tuitt again does not practice, unlikely to play Sunday
Facing the prospect of being without one of his top defensive linemen in going against what has been one of the more formidable in-the-trenches opponents his unit has faced in recent years, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler pondered if the Jacksonville Jaguars perhaps could offer a unique plea.
“‘Hey let’s wait a second; we are going to wait for Stephon (Tuitt) to get healed before we play you guys,’” Butler said.
“But it doesn’t happen like that. I wish it was, but it doesn’t, so we’ve got to go out there and play.”
The Steelers, in all likelihood, will have to face Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars – who gashed them for 395 rushing yards and 75 points in two meetings last season – without one of the league’s better 3-4 ends in Tuitt.
The highest-paid player on the Steelers’ defense this season, Tuitt has not practiced since the Nov. 8 win against Carolina because of an elbow injury.
“It’s just (stinks),” said the player who will replace Tuitt in the starting lineup, Tyson Alualu. “One of our brothers is down.
“But I am definitely ready. And it’s not just me; all the guys have got to rally up.”
The other guys who the Steelers need on their defensive line are Javon Hargrave, Dan McCullers and L.T. Walton in addition to their other stellar starting end, Cameron Heyward.
Hargrave is the No. 1 nose tackle in the base package, but he will play end (in practice, more of a 4-3 tackle) in the Steelers’ subpackages to spell Heyward and/or Tuitt. McCullers is a prototypical nose tackle who is returning to action after he missed last week’s game because of an ankle injury; Walton is in line to be activated for the second consecutive game after he hadn’t played since Week 2.
In recent past seasons, it was rare for Tuitt and Heyward to come off the field, a situation the Steelers sought to address by the signing of Alualu 20 months ago. Under first-year defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, the Steelers have been more liberal in their substitutions at the position.
“It’s kept us fresh, having a rotation,” Heyward said. “Plus, Tyson knows what he’s doing – and Hargrave does as well, and Dan and L.T. – so it’s not like we are throwing someone new in there who hasn’t played before.
“So even without Tuitt, I feel totally confident in the guys we’ve got – so we just have to go out there and dominate.”
The Steelers’ defensive line has been approaching a dominant level in recent weeks, contributing to the team allowing an average of a mere 70.8 rushing yards during the team’s five-game winning streak. Defensive linemen have accounted for 7 ½ sacks and 14 hurries/pressures in that time.
But three of those sacks and seven of those hurries/pressures have come from Tuitt, who’s had 18 tackles and four tackles for loss in that time.
“He means a lot to our defense, there is no doubt,” said Alualu, a nine-year veteran and former No. 10 overall draft pick. “But I think we take pride in that all the guys knowing what’s expected. I think the coaches do a good job of telling us that beforehand.”
Although Jacksonville hasn’t had the success with their rushing offense that they had last season when they led the league at 141.4 yards per game, for six games they have been without 2017 No. 4 overall pick Fournette. It is not a coincidence that the Jaguars lost five of those six.
As a 352-pound run-plugger, McCullers knows he’d be used against the run-happy Jaguars regardless of Tuitt’s status.
“The Jaguars are a downhill running team, so they are going to need more this week,” McCullers said, “and I am ready for it.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.