Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt armed for breakout season
Last season, Stephon Tuitt played with only one fully functional arm.
He perhaps went through Pittsburgh Steelers training camp without a full complement of focus, too.
Not in 2018. Tuitt’s torn left biceps that hindered him all of last season is fully healed, and the defensive end is encountering no distractions associated with the specter of negotiations regarding a soon-to-be expiring contract to take away his attention.
“Of course, it’s draining,” Tuitt said before a recent practice at Saint Vincent, referring to the contract negotiations that lingered throughout the 2017 camp. “You are worried about that. You’re worried about coming out and trying to get better. You are worried about trying to do so many things.
“So now, just to be able to focus on what I need to focus on -- and that’s trying to win a championship and bring one to Pittsburgh -- that’s all I care about.”
For that to happen, Tuitt -- one of the Steelers’ best defensive players -- will be doing some of the heavy lifting. Last season, he couldn’t do much heavy lifting with his left arm, at least. And that affected his ability to lift the Steelers to greater heights.
Tuitt had relatively pedestrian statistics in 2017: 25 tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble in 12 games after signing a five-year, $60 million contract extension on the eve of the season opener.
Tuitt was a force last season for two snaps -- posting a tackle for loss -- before the injury, and when he returned three weeks later, he clearly wasn’t the $60 million player the Steelers signed. Tuitt would play just three full games before Week 10.
“You never want to have an injury, but it’s football,” Tuitt said. “It’s going to happen. Especially with something that I use constantly in my position, it probably takes you down and limits you in a lot of categories. But I learned a lot from that situation -- mental toughness, stay strong and move forward from that.”
Tuitt had four sacks and two pass deflections over the final six games of 2016. He was becoming a force and many predicted a star turn for him in ’17.
Instead, it was position mate Cameron Heyward who broke out with a team-high 12 sacks.
“Both of us on the field (and healthy), we can create chaos and damage,” Tuitt said.
Tuitt was not on the practice field at soggy Saint Vincent on Monday because of illness, coach Mike Tomlin said. Otherwise, he’s been a regular at training camp, and with questions at inside linebacker and a revamped secondary, the Steelers sure could use a dominant season from their pair of standout defensive linemen.
“I understand he worked through some injuries, but I am expecting the best out of him,” Heyward said. “He’s got another year under his belt and knows the defense even better.
“He’s got a good arm now, and I think he wants to put up some good stats.”
Tuitt declined to admit to any targeted statistical goals for this season, but his mouth must be watering at being able to attempt to replicate what Heyward accomplished last season. Whereas the Steelers used to ask defensive lineman to eat up blockers so their linebackers could make plays, Heyward proved last season playmaking is now encouraged to flourish from the position.
“I always have set goals for myself,” Tuitt said, “but I am going to take it one day at a time and get better and practice my craft. Especially with a new (position) coach in Coach (Karl) Dunbar, I’ll just let my game speak for itself.”