The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of the 2020 season thinking about stable, and strong their defensive front was. But that all quickly changed with Stephon Tuitt’s brother was fatally struck and killed during a hit and run last spring. From there they would lose Tuitt and a large hole would be created. Then during a week 2 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders they’d be delivered another blow to the defensive front.
Nose tackle Tyson Alualu would go down with a broken ankle and the Steelers would quickly find out that they didn’t have any depth behind Alualu. With Tuitt and Alualu out the Steelers run defense would become one of the worst units in team history. Often times safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Terrell Edmunds would be forced to stack the box in hopes of stopping the run before it got deep into the secondary. Fitzpatrick recorded a career high in tackles and was rendered useless against the pass because he was always trying to help cover for the front seven.
Wormley came over from the Baltimore Ravens via a trade in 2020, and eventually he would step into his own as the Steelers starting defensive end opposite of Cam Heyward. But he still wasn’t Tuitt. Alualu was the glue that held the Steelers defensive line together. Pittsburgh tried to stop the bleeding by using multiple players to replace Alualu. His direct backup Isaiah Buggs stunk up the field in his absence. Buggs was so bad that he eventually lost his job, and was inactive on gamedays. Then he was cut prior to the end of the regular season.
Thankfully for the Steelers they signed Montravius Adams from the New Orleans Saints practice squad. He came over and made an immediate impact but would miss a game due to COVID-19 shortly after arriving in Pittsburgh. He impressed enough during the last quarter of the season that the Steelers re-signed him to a two year contract this offseason. Adams will be able to rotate with Alualu to keep him fresh this season. That’s something that the 35 year old Alualu will need to stay effective.
If Tuitt arrives back as the same type of player he was prior to last season, and Alualu is healthy the defensive front could turn back into one of the strongest position groups on the field for Pittsburgh.
“It felt great, man, just to be around the guys and being able to compete,” Alualu told reporters after Day 1 of OTA’s. “Whether it’s vets or young guys, I think they can always learn and watch. But when you’re away from the game for so long, it kind of shows you how much you miss it. And more than anything, it’s the camaraderie of being around the guys and I missed that and it just felt great to be here.”
“Whether you’re just coming back from just a normal off season or even coming back off injury, I think this is a great way to knock off some of those kinks and just kind of get back to playing football and getting a football shape.”
During a 6 game span the Steelers defense allowed 1071 yards rushing. At one point during the season they were allowing 178 yards per game on the ground. Those numbers are staggering. Opposing running backs were running through holes that were so wide a semi truck could’ve gained ten yards without being touched.
With the Steelers quarterback situation uncertain without Ben Roethlisberger the defense is going to have to win games. And that starts with stopping the run.