Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt isn’t the only defensive starter who hasn’t practiced with his teammates this summer. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt hasn’t taken part in a team drill since training camp got underway last month, and the Steelers aren’t saying why.
While Watt appears to be limiting himself to minimize the chance of injury while he tries to negotiate a long-term contract extension, Tuitt’s lack of participation remains something of a mystery. The issue could be emotionally related, he could be injured, or he might have a conditioning problem. Or perhaps it’s a combination of those issues.
Cameron Heyward: ‘He’s Working His Way Back’
When Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward was asked about his linemate on Thursday, he said:
“He’s working his way back. You know, he’s gone through some stuff this offseason and we’re just going to continue to be there for him,” making reference to how Tuitt lost his brother, Richard Bartlett III, in a tragic hit-and-run accident in June.
“As the season approaches, [head athletic trainer] John [Norwig] and Coach T. will have more information, but he’s in every meeting, he’s learning, and he’s just working his way back to us,” added Heyward.
“I don’t. I haven’t asked a lot. I know that he’s had good days. I know that progress has been made. I know he’ll be excited to get back out there with his teammates, but really I have been focused on the guys that are participating.”
When pressed further, Tomlin said, “I don’t have to provide any color to injury status or anything of that nature this time of year, so I won’t.”
But with the season opener now little more than three weeks away, there is growing concern that Tuitt won’t be ready to go against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 12.
On Wednesday, defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked if Tuitt would be ready for the Bills game.
“Boy, I hope so. I really hope so,” he said, per Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I think he will be. We don’t want him to go out there and get hurt and we lose him for another four weeks or something like that. We want to make sure he’s in shape and ready to play when we play our first ballgame.”
Stephon Tuitt Was Second on the Team in Sacks Last Season
If Tuitt misses time—or plays in a limited role—that would be a big loss for the defense. He has the fourth-highest salary cap number ($8,600,750) on the team this year and he’s integral to Pittsburgh’s pass rush.
According to Pro Football Reference, Tuitt was in on 45 tackles last season (33 solo) with 10 tackles for loss. More notably, he was second on the team with 11 sacks, and he also had 25 quarterback hits, three passes defensed and a pair of forced fumbles.
But if there’s anyone on the team who can understand what Tuitt is going through it’s Heyward, as his father, Craig ‘Ironhead’ Heyward, died from brain cancer in 2006 at the age of 39.
“We understand football is just a game and for anyone to lose a loved one, it hurts a lot,” said Heyward. “All we can do is be there and make sure we’re there for them in any capacity. And we understand this isn’t just going to go away. We’ve all lost someone and we understand it’s not going to be the same for every person. But whatever he needs, we’ll be there for him.”
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