AFC North: Cam Thomas

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel is still mulling his football future.

But a freshly shaved Keisel gave a strong indication Wednesday night that he will return for another season if the Steelers want him back.

Keisel
Keisel
“I’ve been preparing for when that day comes, and by 'that day' I mean the end,” Keisel told reporters at his Shear Da Beard charity event. “But right now I’m under contract and I’m going to rehab and see (how) things turn out.”

Keisel’s 13th NFL season ended in late November when he tore his triceps in the Steelers’ 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The injury and his advanced football age raised questions about whether the 36-year-old Keisel has played his last down for the Steelers.

The Steelers’ change in defensive coordinator from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler cast more uncertainty on the future of Keisel and a handful of veterans.

But, much like veteran outside linebacker James Harrison, Keisel proved he could still play last season after the Steelers re-signed him in August.

Keisel finished fourth on the Steelers with 12 quarterback pressures despite missing the last four games. He also batted down six passes and made his second career interception.

Rookie Stephon Tuitt emerged after Keisel went down, and the 2014 second-round draft pick has the look of a cornerstone player. But Keisel had to accept a part-time role when he returned last season, and the Steelers don’t have much at defensive end behind Tuitt and Cameron Heyward.

Keisel and Cam Thomas are each signed for one more season, and if it comes down to a choice between the two, it's close to a no-brainer to bring Keisel back.

Thomas is younger and also plays nose tackle. But Keisel outplayed him in 2014 and Thomas' position flexibility isn't as valuable since the Steelers already have a pair of nose tackles in Steve McLendon and Daniel McCullers, who will play more in 2015 if he makes the improvement coach Mike Tomlin expects from players in their second NFL seasons.

Whatever the Steelers decide to do, Keisel seems at peace with what happens next.

“It’s getting close,” he said of retirement. “That’s the way this business goes.”
PITTSBURGH – In a game in which Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison delivered another turn-back-the-clock performance, Stephon Tuitt showed why he has such a promising future.

And why the future is now for the rookie defensive end.

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Tuitt
Tuitt played the best game of his fledgling career Sunday afternoon as he recorded his first NFL sack and forced his first fumble in the Steelers’ 20-12 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The play on which the Chiefs committed the game’s only turnover encapsulated why the Steelers have long thought they got a steal in the second round of the 2014 draft when they gleefully selected Tuitt.

The 6-foot-5, 303-pound Tuitt belted Chiefs Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles after a 3-yard catch and run, forcing a fumble that linebacker Vince Williams recovered. The turnover halted a Chiefs' third-quarter drive with the Steelers holding a tenuous 10-6 lead.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin seemed just as excited as Tuitt, who is only 21 years old, after the latter flashed speed and great pursuit on one of the key plays of the game.

“The energy out there was great,” said Tuitt, who recorded three tackles against the Chiefs. “The way we prepared during the week, we really knew that we were going to be able to do that today.”

Tuitt has shown steady improvement while patiently biding his time. He did not receive significant snaps for much of the season but has emerged since Brett Keisel went down with a season-ending triceps injury.

Tuitt supplanted Cam Thomas as the starting left defensive end three games ago and the former Notre Dame standout is just now showing how good he can be with the Steelers poised to win their first AFC North title since 2010.

“We always used to tell him, ‘Your time’s coming. You just have to play your part,’” said left guard Ramon Foster, who practices regularly against Tuitt. “And now he’s really showing it. I’m proud of the way he’s playing so far. But he’s got to get better because the season is just getting started. It’s getting really hot now.”
PITTSBURGH –Stephon Tuitt's wait is almost over.

The rookie defensive end said he has been taking snaps with the Pittsburgh Steelers first-team defense, and he will play extensively Sunday in Cincinnati.

Tuitt could play most of the snaps at left defensive end if Steve McLendon misses a third consecutive game because of a shoulder issue and Cam Thomas starts in his place at nose tackle. Even if McLendon plays against the Bengals, Tuitt figures to take Brett Keisel ’s spot as one of the tackles in the Steelers’ nickel defense.

Grimes
Tuitt
Keisel, who had been blocking Tuitt from significant playing time, hurt his triceps last Sunday and is out for the rest of the season.

“You don’t ever want anything like that to happen to any of your teammates, but I’ve worked hard all season and worked under his wing,” Tuitt said. “It’s time for me to take that step and grow as a player and keep it going. Play for him, play for the Steelers and do what we have to do to get to the playoffs.”

There are a lot of reasons to think that Tuitt just needs an opportunity to show why the Steelers were so excited last May when he was available at their pick in the second round of the draft.

The 6-foot-5, 303-pounder already has an NFL body and Tuitt caught defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s attention early in training camp with how well he moved for someone his size.

"He’s going to get more snaps, without a doubt. I think he’ll do well,” LeBeau said Thursday. “He is a developing young football player who I think has a very solid future. There’s nothing he’s done that we’ve been unhappy with.”

Nor has Tuitt been unhappy with having to bide his time, as most Steelers rookies do.

“I trained as if I was starting every week. I didn’t once complain because I knew there would be an opportunity for me,” the former Notre Dame standout said. “I’m ready. At the same time, I’ve still got stuff I’ve got to learn. The best thing about me is I compete against myself every day.”

Tuitt has shown flashes, especially as an inside pass rusher, in the limited snaps he has received.

As he prepares for a bigger role, teammates such as McLendon and Heyward have simply told Tuitt to trust in himself and the technique he has been honing since he joined the Steelers.

“I’m not expecting him to play like a young guy,” Heyward said. “We’ve talked about it a little bit and this is a moment where you can excel and take a hold of it or regress. I look for him to play sound and know he's not going to understand [the defense] all right now, but don’t be overwhelmed by it.”
PITTSBURGH -- Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon has been officially ruled out for the Pittsburgh Steelers' game against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.

McClendon
McClendon
McLendon did not practice all week after aggravating a shoulder injury that caused the fourth-year veteran to miss two games this season.

Rookie Daniel McCullers is expected to make his first career start in place of McLendon, and it will be something off a homecoming for the 6-foot-7, 352-pounder McCullers.

He played his college ball at the University of Tennessee before the Steelers took McCullers with the second of two sixth-round draft picks in May.

It will be interesting to see how many snaps McCullers plays against the 2-7 Titans.

Defensive end Cam Thomas will probably also play nose tackle at Tennessee. The Steelers could also use their nickel package in which the nose tackle comes off the field more.

In addition to McLendon, safety Shamarko Thomas will miss a third consecutive game because of a hamstring injury.

The Steelers are expected to get safety Ross Ventrone back after he missed the 20-13 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday because of a hamstring injury. Ventrone, who had filled in for Thomas on special teams, practiced all week.

He is listed as probable on the Steelers’ final injury report of the week, as is cornerback Cortez Allen (thumb). Allen was limited in drills on Friday, but practiced fully on Saturday.

The Steelers will be without strong safety Troy Polamalu (knee), linebacker Ryan Shazier (ankle) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) against the Titans.

All were ruled out earlier this week.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten younger on defense, but they are still relying on a trio of players who were cornerstones of the teams that played in three Super Bowls from 2005-10.

Harrison
Harrison
 
Keisel
Keisel
 
Polamalu
  Outside linebacker James Harrison is already playing significant snaps even though the 36-year-old is still working his way into football shape. Defensive end Brett Keisel, who is also 36, leads the Steelers with 10 quarterback pressures and is playing over Cam Thomas in the nickel package.

And then there is Troy Polamalu, the pup, if you will, of the trio.

The veteran strong safety is third on the Steelers with 31 tackles, and the eight-time Pro Bowler has gotten better with each game. Polamalu, at the age of 33, is not the disruptive force he had been while winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2010.

But Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake sees Polamalu producing the big plays that have been his hallmark -- and doing it in bunches at some point this season.

“One thing I found out about Troy is just when you think, ‘Oh, he’s not really going to [do] that much this year,’ boom, he starts making plays just like he did last year,” Lake said. “He’s building. It’s like our team in general. The gears are turning.”

Harrison is the most unlikely of those gears.

Keisel and Polamalu helped talk Harrison out of retirement after starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones went down in a 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers last month with a dislocated wrist.

Harrison played almost 30 snaps in his first game back with the Steelers and 20 in the 17-9 win at Jacksonville last Sunday. Harrison dropped Jaguars running back Denard Robinson for a 2-yard loss the play before cornerback Brice McCain returned an interception for a touchdown.

“I’m not where I want to be right now but week in, week out it gets a little better,” Harrison said Thursday before practice. “We’ll see how far and how fast I progress.”

When asked if he is progressing slower than he had anticipated, Harrison said with his typical bluntness, “If you were trying to lose weight, you’re not going to lose all the weight you want to in two weeks are you? It takes time.”

Despite the process of working his way back into shape and playing a supporting role on defense, Harrison said he doesn’t regret coming out of retirement, even though he had been content to walk away from the game.

"Everything happens for a reason,” Harrison said. “I’m here because that’s what was meant to be. It’s the right decision.”
PITTSBURGH -- Stephon Tuitt didn’t try to hide a wide smile on Wednesday afternoon and for good reason.

Tuitt
“I literally felt like 90 percent of the plays I was in, I did right,” the rookie defensive end said. “That alone shows progress.”

Tuitt has played sparingly on defense through the first quarter of the season and when asked if a light went on for him during the Steelers’ first practice of the week, he said, “Kind of. I know I can play. What’s holding me back is not knowing the plays. When I start knowing the plays I’ll help my team. Just like anybody in a new system, it’s going to hit sooner or later.”

The sooner the better for Tuitt.

The Steelers, too.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said before the start of the season that he expected the immensely talented Tuitt to get significant playing time.

That hasn’t materialized as Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers six weeks ago, has played in a rotation with starting defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Cam Thomas over Tuitt.

Tuitt played just three snaps in the Steelers’ 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the second-round draft pick has just one tackle after four games.

But if Tuitt’s demeanor after practice on Wednesday is an indication, the 6-foot-5, 303-pounder is anything but frustrated as he adjusts to the NFL and veteran defensive line coach John Mitchell.

“He’s a tough coach but he really wants all of his players to get better. As long as you give him effort and show that you’re trying to get better every day you’ll always be on the same side,” Tuitt said. “I go hard every day, so it’s exciting.”

What really has Tuitt excited is his belief that he is getting closer to just playing and not thinking as much when he is on the field.

His development will only help a defensive line that has stabilized after getting gashed by the run in the Steelers’ first two games.

The Steelers have allowed just 105 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry in their past two games largely because of the improved play of the defensive line.

“Don’t let our record fool you,” Tuitt said. “We are a great team and we’re going to show it when the time comes.”
An examination of what the Pittsburgh Steelers must do after their 30-27 win over the Cleveland Browns:

Tomlint
Tomlin
The Steelers will work on all aspects of communication this week after repeated defensive breakdowns against the Browns.

They don’t have a lot of time to fix what coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged were communication problems from the sideline to the players and from the players to one another as the Browns went up and down the field after halftime.

Pittsburgh has just three days to prepare for a Thursday night game at Baltimore, and the Ravens will surely look closely at the success the Browns had in the second half against the Steelers.

The Browns piled up 288 yards in the second half and erased a 24-point halftime deficit while running and throwing the ball with equal success.

They kept the Steelers defense on its heels by running a no-huddle attack almost exclusively after halftime. The surprise with the confusion that the no-huddle offense caused is that the Steelers defense practiced extensively against it in training camp and the preseason.

“We’ve had some good days,” Tomlin said of the Steelers practicing against the no-huddle. “Obviously, [Sunday] was not one. We’re not going to let [Sunday] define us by any stretch.”

The Steelers defense should get a chance to redeem itself against the no-huddle offense Thursday.

The Ravens used it in the second half of their 23-16 loss to the Bengals on Sunday to change the tempo of the game. They went no-huddle on eight of the 10 plays that covered 82 yards in the third quarter and resulted in the Ravens’ first touchdown.

The communication issues that hampered the Steelers in the second half against the Browns are disconcerting since defenses tend to stay more basic when the opposing offense is in no-huddle mode.

Three new players -- rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive end Cam Thomas and free safety Mike Mitchell -- started on defense in the season opener. But Tomlin would not use that as a crutch for why confusion reigned in the second half against the Browns.

“The big thing is we’ve got to communicate it [since] communication is integral to execution,” Tomlin said. “We were [lined up] where we were supposed to be, but based on some of the results of those snaps, I can’t say that we were ready.”
PITTSBURGH – The question centered on Antonio Brown’s role -- and specifically whether the Pro Bowl wide receiver would continue to pull double duty this season.

Keisel
Keisel
Mike Tomlin said he wouldn’t let the fear of an injury to one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' most valuable players stop him from using Brown as a punt returner, where he also earned Pro Bowl honors last season.

Tomlin then referenced the depth chart where Brown is listed ahead of rookie Dri Archer at punt returner.

So what, then, to read into the Steelers’ depth chart at defensive end? Apparently not much with Brett Keisel’s role still undetermined.

Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers two weeks ago, is listed as the second-team right defensive end behind Cam Thomas. Cameron Heyward, meanwhile, is the starter at left defensive end, with rookie Stephon Tuitt behind him.

Heyward played at right defensive end throughout offseason practices and the preseason, and Tomlin said the fourth-year veteran won’t necessarily move to accommodate Keisel.

“[Keisel] might be the pliable guy,” Tomlin said. “I think those are things we are still sorting out.”

Keisel has started the last eight seasons at right defensive end, but Tomlin and his staff are still trying to figure out the best way to utilize “Da Beard.”

He could end up backing up Heyward at right defensive end and playing in a rotation on the left side with Thomas and Tuitt. What seems clear is that the roles at defensive end won’t be clearly defined in the foreseeable future.

“I still think we’re just getting a sense of what Brett is capable of from a snap standpoint,” Tomlin said. “That will have a lot to do with his utilization in the game along with the performance of others. He’s going to be an asset to us. I look forward to continuing to watch him round into form.”
PITTSBURGH -- Well, that didn't take long.

The ink had barely dried on the two-year contract that Brett Keisel signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday when he vaulted to the top of the depth chart at right defensive end.

Keisel
Keisel
The signing of Keisel led to several changes on a depth chart that coach Mike Tomlin said he pays scant attention to during the preseason.

Keisel is back at the position where he has started since 2006 with Stephon Tuitt, Nick Williams and Ethan Hemer listed behind him. Cameron Heyward is the starter at left defensive end with Cam Thomas, Brian Arnfelt and Josh Mauro listed behind him.

Prior to the re-signing of Keisel, Heyward had been the starter at right defensive end with Thomas the starter at left defensive end and Tuitt behind Thomas.

Keisel made the trip with the Steelers Wednesday afternoon to Philadelphia, but he is not expected to suit up for the Steelers' 7:30 p.m. ET game against the Eagles Thursday night.

What is clear is the Steelers did not bring back "Da Beard" to play a limited number of snaps and mentor their young defensive linemen.

Heyward has been practicing at right defensive end but he should be fine moving back to the position where he emerged as a starter last season. The fourth-year veteran has said there is not much difference in playing right and left defensive end.

Thomas appears to lose the most with Keisel back.

He is now relegated to the Al Woods role of swing defensive end/nose tackle. Thomas, however, also provides injury insurance at nose tackle and could push Steve McLendon there if the latter struggles this season.

PITTSBURGH -- Fans all but begged the Steelers to bring back Brett Keisel during the months when it looked like the popular and hirsute defensive end would not be able to end an unlikely NFL career on his own terms.

A lot of people got their wish Tuesday. Not the least of them was Keisel.

The deal that returns him to the only organization he has known will also allow Keisel to retire as a Steeler. "Da Beard" wanted that as much as he did another season of playing in the NFL.

The Arizona Cardinals' interest in Keisel prompted the Steelers to double back on him, even though they are generally getting younger on defense.

Keisel
Keisel
That is not a knock against Cam Thomas, whom the Steelers signed to a two-year, $4 million contract in March. It is certainly not an indictment of second-round pick Stephon Tuitt, whom the Steelers love -- and who is the future at left defensive end.

But teams can usually find a place for players such as Keisel, and the Steelers are no exception. He is so valuable in the locker room and defensive linemen's meeting room because of his leadership.

And he showed this past season that he can still play when healthy. Keisel missed almost five games, but it’s not like his body was breaking down because he was in his 12th NFL season.

One injury, plantar fasciitis, sidelined Keisel for a mid- to late-season stretch. Even that painful foot injury did not stop Keisel from finishing third on the Steelers with 26 quarterback pressures and fourth on the team with four sacks.

He can still help the Steelers’ defense, even if he gets limited snaps while playing in a rotation. And his return won’t stunt the development of Tuitt.

On the contrary, Keisel is the perfect player to mentor the immensely talented Tuitt. He is a two-time captain who has been held as an example by Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell because he always runs to the ball.

Always.

When he is giving pointers to Tuitt, Keisel can think back to when Aaron Smith mentored him -- Tuitt actually wears the No. 91 for which Smith set the standard -- and marvel at where the time went.

It has been almost 13 years since Keisel crashed the league that didn't want him and nearly called it a career before he ever got started. Keisel lasted until the 242nd pick of the 2002 NFL draft and almost left St. Vincent College a couple months later because the seventh-round selection felt so overwhelmed at his first training camp.

But he ended up staying, and he developed into one of the unlikeliest core players of the teams that won two Super Bowls and played in a third in a six-season span.

Just when it looked like the Steelers had moved on from Keisel, who celebrates his 36th birthday next month, they bring him back for another season.

Both sides will be better for it -- and Keisel gets to author the ending he wanted all along for his improbable story.
LATROBE, Pa. – Dick LeBeau has a high opinion of Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. The longtime Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator is similarly impressed by a couple of rookies he sees on a regular basis.

LeBeau, in fact, couldn’t say enough good things on Wednesday about inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. LeBeau expects Shazier, a first-round pick in May, to start this season and for Tuitt, a second-round selection, to play a lot.

“I don’t want to overload their plate but I would say they’re ahead of schedule,” LeBeau said. “They’ve been very much a pleasure for the whole coaching staff mostly because of the type of people they are. They’re very open to coaching. They’re hard workers and they know they’ve got a lot to learn and that’s not always the case.”

LeBeau is enamored with the physical ability of both players as he tries return the Steelers’ defense to the NFL’s top tier after it finished 13th in total defense last season.

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Tuitt
Shazier, the 15th overall pick of he 2014 draft, runs like a defensive back. His athleticism also translates well to an NFL game is that is becoming more wide open. The 6-foot-5, 303-pound Tuitt has a unique blend of size and athleticism, and it is probably only a matter of time before he supplants Cam Thomas at left defensive end.

“Even though I knew he could run, when I see him in person I am surprised by his endurance and his speed and quickness,” LeBeau said of Tuitt. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy that big move like that. Now does that mean he’s going to be a great player? No, it doesn’t. There’s a lot of other things that come in there. But he seems willing to try to acquire that knowledge and those skills.”

Shazier has been the starter at weakside inside linebacker since the outset of offseason practices, and he has all but won the starting job because of the speed the Ohio State product and Lawrence Timmons can provide in the middle of the defense.

“I think those two guys are going to give us a lot of speed at a position that doesn’t necessarily feature speed. We’re going to be fast at inside ‘backer.”

Shazier and Tuitt will play in their first preseason game on Saturday night when the Steelers visit the New York Giants. To say LeBeau is excited to see how each player fares in the 7:30 ET game is an understatement.

“These young guys I don’t want to overload the expectations but at this stage they’re doing a good job,” LeBeau said. “I’m glad we’re going to start playing some games. It makes the evaluation process a little easier and perhaps identify some of the areas we need to focus on.”
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have not ruled out bringing back defensive end Brett Keisel or outside linebacker James Harrison.

General manager Kevin Colbert declined to talk about specific players Monday morning when asked if Keisel is on the Steelers’ radar. But Colbert said, “We haven’t eliminated anybody from consideration because we don’t know what’s going to happen before the season. Even into the season there’s been times when we’ve brought back veteran players due to injury. If we have eliminated a player we always tell [him] don’t keep us in your thought process, if you have an opportunity don’t wait for us, something along those lines.”

Keisel
Keisel
Harrison
Harrison
Keisel and Harrison, who played for the Bengals in 2013 after nine seasons with the Steelers, would like to return to the team. And I have Keisel on my latest projected 53-man roster.

It makes all the sense in the world for the Steelers to bring Keisel back.

He could play in a rotation at left defensive end – I’m not sold on Cam Thomas there – and serve as a perfect bridge between second-round pick Stephon Tuitt’s rookie and second seasons. There are a lot of people with football expertise who think Keisel can still play, even though he turns 36 in September, and he would be a great mentor for the younger defensive ends like Tuitt and Brian Arnfelt.

The Steelers don’t have to be in a hurry to bring back Keisel, who is keeping himself in shape and doesn't need training camp at this point of his career. That will give them time to take an extended look at what they have at defensive end and help them decide whether to bring back Keisel.

I like Keisel’s chances of returning to the Steelers a lot better than I do Harrison coming back for a second stint in Pittsburgh.

The five-time Pro Bowler would have to be content with a really limited role with the Steelers set with their top three at outside linebacker in Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats.

For fans who have asked about Harrison returning so he can help the younger players at outside linebacker, the Steelers added that mentor last February when they hired Joey Porter as a defensive assistant.

One injury, of course, could change everything in regard to the Steelers and Harrison. But if the Steelers stay relatively healthy at outside linebacker, I don’t see him returning to Pittsburgh.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 1

July, 26, 2014
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LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Pittsburgh Steelers training camp.
  • Martavis Bryant broke inside as a pass sailed over his head during the Steelers’ first practice of training camp. “Don’t come in that way!” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger yelled Saturday afternoon to the rookie wide receiver. Roethlisberger proceeded to gesture to Bryant how he should have retraced his steps and run back toward the quarterback instead of cutting toward the middle of the field. No other sequence better epitomized how hands-on Roethlisberger was with a young receiving corps that has to replace two of its top three wideouts from last season. Expect the on-field instruction and dialogue with his receivers to continue during camp and throughout the preseason. “He has full control over the whole team, really, and he doesn’t take that lightly,” veteran tight end Heath Miller said of Roethlisberger. “He takes a lot of pride in that. He’s the unquestionable leader of this team.”
  • The wide receivers looked really good as a group during the first practice. The caveat, of course, is that the Steelers won’t hit or wear pads until Monday. But the wide receivers drew oohs and aahs from fans who watched from the hillsides or the bleachers at Chuck Noll Field. Darrius Heyward-Bey made an over-the-shoulder grab of a Roethlisberger deep ball during a seven-on-seven drill. Justin Brown made a leaping catch of a pass that Roethlisberger delivered with some serious heat. Markus Wheaton made a handful of nice catches. Wheaton and Antonio Brown were the starters at wide receiver when the Steelers went 11-on-11 and Lance Moore was the No. 3 wide receiver.
  • Roethlisberger wore No. 99 for the first part of practice in honor of his former teammate and good friend Brett Keisel. Keisel, who played for Pittsburgh from 2002-13, remains unsigned and is hoping to return to the Steelers. “That’s my boy,” Roethlisberger said. “We were suitemates, he’s been one of my closest friends, been in my wedding. I miss him.” The Steelers could bring Keisel back if it is determined that the defense misses player who started the previous eight seasons at right defensive end. Cameron Heyward played mostly at right defensive end during the Steelers’ first practice. Cam Thomas, Brian Arnfelt and Stephon Tuitt all received repetitions with the first-team defense at left defensive end.
  • Coach Mike Tomlin started to address the one injury that occurred during the Steelers’ first practice when he realized he had referred to center/guard David Snow by the wrong name. “I call him Jon Snow because I’m a ‘Game of Thrones’ guy,” Tomlin said of the popular TV series. David Snow suffered an ankle or foot injury on Saturday, though Tomlin said he did not know the extent or severity of the injury. Other than Snow’s injury, Tomlin said, “We got through [practice] pretty clean and I liked the effort.”

Stephon Tuitt: 'I love pressure'

June, 19, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- He was issued the number worn by Aaron Smith, one of the best defensive ends in Pittsburgh Steelers history.

His position coach continued the link when he compared Stephon Tuitt to a young Aaron Smith.

Pressure? Yeah, and Tuitt says bring it on.

“I love pressure,” the rookie defensive end said. “I thrive off of that.”

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIStephon Tuitt, 7, of Notre Dame hopes to follow in the footsteps of Aaron Smith as the Pittsburgh Steelers' next dominant 3-4 defensive end.
He better, since the Steelers are hoping Tuitt is one of the players they build around up front with Smith and nose tackle Casey Hampton no longer with the team and defensive end Brett Keisel still a free agent.

John Mitchell has spoken highly of Tuitt since the Steelers drafted the former Notre Dame star, calling him a steal in the second round and later comparing him to Smith, who was so good in his prime that teams could not effectively block him with just one man.

Mitchell, however, has tempered expectations during minicamp, which wraps up today, and said the Steelers won’t play Tuitt until he is ready.

“The worst thing you want to happen to a good player who is going to be good down the road, he loses confidence because he goes in the game when he’s not ready to play,” the veteran defensive line coach told Steelers.com. “We’re not going to rush this kid in there. When he’s ready to play and we feel he can help this team, that’s when we’re going to play him. As he grows he’s going to be a good football player and he’s going to play here for a long time.”

It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Tuitt, who could have returned to Notre Dame for his senior season, is able to help the Steelers right away since much at defensive end is unknown after Cameron Heyward.

Cam Thomas, who started 10 games at nose tackle for the San Diego Chargers last season, will go into training camp as the starting defensive end opposite Heyward. After that the Steelers have a bunch of young, unproven players at the position, though there is a chance they bring Keisel back.

Tuitt is the most promising of the youngsters the Steelers have at defensive end.

The 6-foot-5, 303-pounder already has an NFL body, and he likely would have been a first-round pick had he not carried extra weight in 2013 after surgery compromised his offseason training.

Tuitt’s sheer size and the fact that he played some five-technique defensive end in college should help reduce his learning curve.

“I played every single position at Notre Dame,” said Tuitt, whose 21 career sacks rank among the school’s all-time leaders “Coming into this defense there isn’t much change. It’s just different when everybody you’re going against is top caliber.”

Top-caliber is an apt description of the defensive end who wore No. 91 before Tuitt.

Smith established himself as one of the best 3-4 defensive ends of his generation, and he was a main reason the Steelers regularly ranked among the top rushing defenses in the NFL.

Tuitt has yet to meet Smith, but he has already heard plenty about him.

“I’ve gotten a chance to see who wore this number before me, and the person who wore the number before me was a great player for the Steelers,” Tuitt said. “With that comes a great opportunity to become the best, and that’s somebody I want to become as great as or greater than.”

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