The Pittsburgh Steelers allowed most of their defensive ends to walk this offseason, trying to rebuild the position from within, via free agency, and through the draft. The most promising new addition to the pool is second-round selection Stephon Tuitt.
But unlike Ryan Shazier, that doesn’t mean he looks like he’s ready to just step into the starting lineup from the first snap of the season.
This is something that he’s becoming increasingly aware of as he begins to learn what playing at the professional level is all about, and he talked about what it’s like for him as a rookie stepping into the mix with so many players who have already been where he is now.
“For a rookie, it’s like a learning process”, he said. “Like everybody else that’s out here, we’re grinding, staying hard, trying to understand the playbook, and understand the team”.
This is a different type of level. Increasing your motor. Understanding the playbook. Mistakes could get other people hurt, or something can happen, so you have to make sure you do everything right, because you’re not just out there by yourself. You’re out there with 10 other talented people, and a lot more other people on the sideline as well.
Not that he’s surprised about the culture shock of jumping from the college level—regardless of what program—to the professional level, where everybody gets paid.
“I already came in knowing the fact that this is the NFL”, he said. “Everybody here is good, and you’ve got to be able to put yourself through the process. Today I fell back for the first time. But the next day, you go back out here and work harder to be the best”.
He knows, too, that he has to stay at it and push forward, because if you don’t, you can quickly be passed by. “You’ve got to have a quick memory just to move on because if you linger on it you can fall back and stay behind”.
Once the helmets come on, of course, it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted. Tuitt was a second-round pick who many considered to have first-round talent, but right now he’s playing behind free agent signing Cam Thomas, with no sign of jumping ahead to the first-team defense in the near future.
The reason Tuitt was a second-rounder, you’ll remember, is because he spent the 2013 battling a sports hernia. It caused his weight to bloom, and his play on the field suffered, after an exceptional sophomore campaign.
Tuitt required time to get right after the season because of the sports hernia. And according to Jim Wexell, he still has another step or two to go before he is where he needs to be physically, noting that he thinks “Tuitt needs to lose a few”.
Even though Dick LeBeau may have said early on that he expects the rookies to get significant playing time, they will not start Tuitt if he’s not ready. That’s why Thomas is here, who could be competing with Brian Arnfelt. Some even believe that Brett Keisel could still be back, which I would have no problem with if it meant allowing Tuitt to progress naturally.