Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rookie Defensive Lineman Follows Hard, Familiar Path

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rookie Defensive Lineman Follows Hard, Familiar Path

Article excerpt

The Steelers broke with tradition when they plugged rookie linebacker and first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier into the starting lineup for the opener. Rookie defensive end and second-round pick Stephon Tuitt is following the more traditional course for a first- year player in the Steelers defense.

Tuitt has played 35 snaps in the first four games. In recent weeks, he has watched his playing time dwindle, going from 15 snaps against Baltimore to nine against Carolina to two against Tampa Bay.

"When it comes down to it, when I understand my playbook and the system, my plays will go up higher," said Tuitt, who came to the Steelers from Notre Dame. "But, until then, especially now in critical situations, I have to build their trust to get in the game."

When the Steelers drafted Tuitt there was some hope among the coaches that he could earn a starting job as a rookie, but he is playing behind veteran starters Cam Heyward and Cam Thomas and reserve Brett Keisel, who was signed two weeks before the start of the regular season. In the 3-4 defense, linemen traditionally have the hardest time picking up the system.

It took Heyward until the fourth game of his third season to earn a starting job. It was not until his fourth season that Keisel earned a full-time starting job.

"I have great teammates and the defensive linemen are teaching me a lot about our defense," Tuitt said. "I talk to a lot of the veterans like Troy Polamalu, Cam Heyward, Brett Keisel, Steve McLendon. It took them a while to get it. For me, it's taking awhile. I'm trying to get it as fast I can. These guys ended up being great players, and it took them awhile to get the system. So, I'm very confident."

Tuitt is not unlike a lot of rookie defensive linemen in the NFL. It's not just the Steelers who scale back playing time for rookie linemen.

Former Pitt standout Aaron Donald, the top defensive lineman taken in the draft this year, has played 83 snaps in three games (about 28 per game). …

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