The Pittsburgh Steelers paid good money in the offseason in order to bolster their defensive line depth by acquiring veteran Tyson Alualu, who spent his prior seven seasons playing for the Jaguars, often as a starter, but in recent years more as a rotational depth player.
He was added to the roster here not as a starter, but rather as depth, yet he has had to spend about half of the season already functioning as something of a starter, given that Stephon Tuitt missed all but two snaps over the course of the first three games.
But their fourth-year stalwart starting left defensive end is not going to play once again today, missing his third full game, this time with a back injury that crept up during the week. So it would be great if the Steelers could actually get something substantial, rather than just sufficient, out of their high-priced depth along the line.
The Steelers invested in their depth this year in order to keep Tuitt and Cameron Heyward on the sideline more, anticipating that they would not experience nearly the drop in talent when they are off the field that they have had in years past.
Alualu has, in my view, done a serviceable job against the run so far during the preseason, but he has been particularly inconsequential in the pass-rushing department, which is a major disappointment. While he never really lived up to his billing as a pass-rusher while with the Jaguars, he should still be able to offer more than he has.
And perhaps he will get a decent opportunity to do more today against a Bengals offensive line that is not exactly what it once was a year ago. Absent particularly guard Kevin Zeitler on the right side, Cincinnati has also been rotating Jake Fisher and Andre Smith at right tackle, with Smith rotating at left tackle as well.
Their starter at right guard this year has been Trey Hopkins, who was an undrafted free agent in 2014. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve, but had mostly been on the practice squad the past two years, despite being a player that the coaching staff has been high on for a while as a versatile lineman.
He suffered a knee injury in the opener that kept him out for three games, only returning to the lineup in week five and struggling against Buffalo, but he has had a week off now thanks to the bye. It would seem to me a good time to test just how well he is—and how good.
But it will be up to Alualu, and not Tuitt, to test the young starter. I’m sure the Steelers would like to get a starter-quality performance out of their well-compensated reserve. But if they are smart, they will also heavily supplement him with Javon Hargrave, particularly in the nickel and in obvious passing situations.