The Pittsburgh Steelers are making it quite clear. The rebuilding of this team begins on defense. After taking the uber-athletic Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round, the Steelers come back to the second and take powerful defensive end Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame.
There was little doubt when the Steelers let both Ziggy Hood and Al Woods leave via free agency that they would draft a replacement. Tuitt is a long, powerful football player with great production. During his three seasons at Notre Dame, Tuitt tallied 126 total tackles, 25.0 tackles for loss and 21.5 sacks. If this were a traditional 4-3 defensive end, it would be impressive.
So compound that by a factor of 10 when you think about the fact that Tuitt is a 304-pound, 3-4 defensive end. A player of his size should be considered more of a space-eating lineman, freeing up the players behind him. That's not Tuitt. Make no mistake; Tuitt can be a force in the same vein as Pittsburgh defensive end Cameron Heyward.
Being in a position to line Tuitt up opposite Heyward opens up tremendous opportunities to rush the quarterback without having to use excessive rushers and exotic schemes. Those are all fantastic, but the fact is, when you can get pressure with only three or four rushers, you win.
How good is Tuitt? At one point early in the year, he was considered a top prospect. Obviously, he slid some due to injury, but there’s nothing to say he won’t be 100 percent by the start of the year. Steelers insider James Wexell tweeted out this quote from Pittsburgh defensive line coach, John Mitchell:
#Steelers DL coach John Mitchell: "If healthy this year he would've gone in the top 10. We feel we got a steal."— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) May 10, 2014
That’s high praise from Mitchell, as this is a very talented defensive line class. What role will Tuitt play on that Steelers defense?
The short answer is he is going to end up starting at right defensive end. This would put him opposite Heyward and with linebacker Jason Worilds lined up behind him. Tuitt is another guy who gives Pittsburgh versatility. Tuitt is big enough to kick inside and anchor the middle in sub-packages.
Think about a four-man front of Jason Worilds, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Jarvis Jones. In the nickel and dime that could be exactly what you see. That is a long, explosive group who would be very difficult to account for. Oh, and let’s not forget behind them would be Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier.
The Steelers still need to look at the defensive secondary, but this pick was all about value. Just as when they took Shazier in the first, Tuitt represents a very high talent in the second. You draft the best football players and you put them in spots to make plays. There are few coaches who do that better than Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.