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The Potentially Huge Steelers Addition That No One is, Or Will, Talk About

Two years ago the Steelers had defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt playing an unprecedented number of snaps. To help shoulder that load the team added Ricardo Matthews in free agency. During the 2016 season the Steelers were still relying heavily on Heyward and Tuitt as Matthews battled some injuries. After Heyward, himself, suffered a season-ending injury the Steelers were forced to turn to LT Walton and Johnny Maxey.

Image result for tyson alualuDuring this off-season, however, the Steelers went for a more proven player to join the mix. Tyson Alualu was never meant to be drafted as high as he was. Perhaps that stigma stuck with him during his career in Jacksonville, I can’t say for sure. Now that he is in Pittsburgh, however, I can say that the Steelers signed him to be exactly who he is. Which is a solid defensive lineman who can play at the tackle position in a four-man front and at the end position in a three-man front.

Alualu also comes with a lot of experience, something that Walton and Maxey, who are also still on the roster, do not have. Walton and Maxey are players that can add depth on the roster. They can also step in for reps when needed, but Alualu gives the Steelers something they have been missing. He is a player that can step in and the team won’t miss a beat. He is the type of player that can start in place of Heyward and Tuitt and no one has to worry about what they might get out of him.

The Former Top-Ten Pick

Alualu was projected as a late-first, or early second round pick in 2010. Then, the Jacksonville Jaguars surprised everyone by drafting him with the tenth overall pick. Alualu had his most productive season a year ago and now joins the Steelers defense with a chance of being a big-time contributor.

The defensive ends in the Steelers defense serve a vital role, but they don’t always get the credit that they deserve. Aaron Smith, who played for the Steelers for 13 years, was a huge part of the Steelers defense, but I don’t think he is always remembered alongside players like Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter and James Harrison. Brett Keisel was more well-known, but a lot of that probably came from the beard.

In football there are some positions that, at times, get overlooked. When a quarterback hits a receiver for a 70 yard touchdown we look at the receivers and quarterback stats, but we often overlook the offensive line that gave them the time to get the play off. Defensive ends play a similar role on defense. They take up blockers and open lanes so that the linebackers can get to the quarterback. When the linebacker is celebrating the sack, however, we don’t always pay attention to the defensive lineman that made the play possible.

Improved Pass Rush in 2017

Image result for cameron heyward steelersThe development of Bud Dupree and TJ Watt will be important to improving the pass rush in 2017, but the play of the defensive line will also be vital. Javon Hargrave, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu should see a lot of snaps this season. It will be their job to open lanes and take on blockers to help give the linebackers lanes to the quarterbacks. They are also working towards the same goal, tackling the running backs or sacking the quarterbacks, but many times they play a thankless role.

When the Steelers defense was putting up big sack numbers in the mid 2000’s guys like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans got much of the credit. They all were benefitted greatly, though, from playing alongside guys like Aaron Smith, Kemo von Oelhoffen, and Brett Keisel. Now, the Steelers have a new era of solid defensive lineman and those players should be able to make life easier for guys like Dupree, Watt, Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams.

If Hargrave, Heyward, Tuitt and Alualu can open gaps and take up blockers the Steelers pass-rush should be more potent during the upcoming season. To do so that group will need to stay healthy. The addition of Alualu should help with that as he can take up snaps and keep Heyward and Tuitt from wearing down.

Defensive Line Depth Chart for 2017

Javon Hargrave will be the top Nose Tackle. He will also be the first lineman brought in for sub packages. The Steelers top defensive ends will be Heyward and Tuitt. Behind them will be Tyson Alualu as the primary back-up and then some combination of L.T.Walton, Johnny Maxey, or some other players brought into compete during camp.

As for the back-up nose tackle, that job currently belongs to Daniel McCullers, but there are a decent number of young players, who will be in camp, that can take that job for themselves if McCullers doesn’t show improvement in year three.

 

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