Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell might see a lot of Aaron Smith in rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt, but after three weeks of OTA practices and two mandatory minicamp practices, he’s certainly not expecting him play like him right out of the chute.
“I really like where Tuitt is. I want people to realize this guy is going to be a senior this year,” said Mitchell. “All these people are going to be expecting great things, I’m not expecting that. I’m expecting him to play like a senior in college. As he grows he’s going to be a good football player and he’s going to play here for a long time.”
As expected, Mitchell still has a lot to teach Tuitt and it sounds like he will bring him along slowly just as he did most recently with Cameron Heyward.
“I’m going to play him as much as I can. We’re not going to rush him,” said the Steelers longtime defensive line coach of the Notre Dame product. “I don’t care if he’s a first- or second-round draft choice. When he’s ready to play and we can play him in certain situations I’m going to put him in the ballgame. The worst thing you want to happen to a good player who is going to be good down the road, he loses confidence because he goes in the game when he’s not ready to play.
“We’re not going to rush this kid in there. When he’s ready to play and we feel he can help this team, that’s when we’re going to play him.”
Over the course of the offseason practices, Tuitt has reportedly been working with the second-team defense and there’s no reason to think that will change when the team arrives in Latrobe for training camp next month. For now, Heyward and newcomer Cam Thomas are the starters at defensive end.
As for Thomas, who was signed as free agent during the offseason after spending his first four seasons in the league with the San Diego Chargers, Mitchell sounds like he’s happy with what he’s seen out of him so far.
“Cam’s a good football player, he’s a good technician and he’s going to help us,” said Mitchell. “He’s a veteran ballplayer, he knows what it takes to win and he wants to win.”
With the mandatory minicamp now almost over, you still have to wonder if Brett Keisel will brought back between now and the start of training camp. It’s obvious that Mitchell doesn’t want to rush Tuitt along and while he thinks Thomas can indeed help in 2014, you really have to wonder how much confidence the team has in him as a starter.
If Keisel is willing to take a one-year qualifying contract for the minimum to return for one last hurrah, I still think the Steelers would be best served to sign him and play him until his wheels come all of the way off.