The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Stephon Tuitt to a five year extension on Saturday. They feared his season was over one day later. Tuitt injured his bicep on the second play of their season opener; consequently, he did not return. He left the game after forcing Isaiah Crowell out of bounds for a five yard loss. Team doctors feared a distal tendon tear at the elbow, but in hindsight Stephon Tuitt’s injury was a best case scenario. Tuitt is listed as week to week, meaning he likely suffered a proximal long head of biceps tendon tear.
Pittsburgh Steelers Dodge Bullet Over Stephon Tuitt’s Injury
Tuitt’s Injury Hurts Line Flexibility
Keith Butler has plans to do more out of the base 3-4 this season. Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, and Javon Hargrave bring enough pressure without having to blitz, allowing Butler to mix his coverage schemes. Butler’s plans hinge on the health of the Steelers newest long term investment. He must proceed with caution. Butler has to be careful with Tuitt’s injury, making sure to rotate Tyson Alualu in as often as possible. It’s unclear how long Tuitt will be out initially, but his teammates believe he’ll be back sooner rather than later.
Options to Help Overcome Tuitt’s Injury
Mike Tomlin confirmed that despite Tuitt’s injury not being a season ender, it puts his short term availability in question. Tuitt was in the locker room after the game without a sling, carrying his bag with the injured arm. Tomlin and Butler still have some options available to them. Daniel McCullers and Leterrius Walton can move to nose tackle, when needed, allowing Hargrave to move outside. Walton can play outside himself. Bill Cowher found success in 1995 when he moved Carnell Lake to safety out of necessity.
If Butler wants to get creative, James Harrison is another option to line up at defensive end on third down. Harrison pushes sleds loaded with 1,500 pounds, so a right tackle shouldn’t be a problem. Harrison is quicker and much stronger than most defensive ends, possessing a devastating bull rush. He could certainly power his way through those tackles. Butler could find third down success lining Harrison up at right defensive end, with T.J. Watt coming off his right shoulder.
Bring Tuitt’s Injury Along Slowly
The Steelers dodged a bullet when Tuitt didn’t suffer the distal tendon tear at his elbow as they feared. They are relieved he is week to week, as opposed to being lost for the season; the staff must exercise caution when he returns. Tuitt’s tolerance for pain will dictate how much he’ll be able to play. Upon his return, Tomlin and Butler need to monitor him closely, and bring Tuitt along slowly.
Tomlin said that Tuitt could possibly play this week, during his press conference, if he is able to practice this week. Heyward said the defensive line, “Breathed a sigh of relief,” when Tuitt informed him that he got news from his MRI. Just because Tuitt could play this Sunday, doesn’t mean he should. An NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the Steelers need to proceed with the big picture in mind. They are going to need Tuitt to get to where they want to go, and preserving his health now for a Super Bowl run later is the best course of action.