PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers are used to drafting defensive players with no expectation that they need to see the field any time soon.
But with an aging defense that dropped outside the top 10 in total yards allowed for the first time since 1999, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said that is no longer a luxury the Steelers can afford.
The Steelers picked defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second round of the draft on Friday, joining first-round selection linebacker Ryan Shazier as another young defensive player LeBeau expects will start this upcoming season.
The 6-foot-5, 303-pound Tuitt recorded 127 tackles and 21.5 sacks in three seasons. He was an All-American as a sophomore, recording 47 tackles and a team-high 12 sacks and helped lead the Fighting Irish to a national championship game appearance.
An offseason hernia limited his conditioning heading into his junior year and caused Tuitt to gain weight, said Steelers assistant head coach John Mitchell.
Without the injury, and the extra weight, Mitchell believes Tuitt would have been a top-10 pick.
“We feel like we got a steal in the second round at our pick,” Mitchell said.
He finished his junior year with 50 tackles, 7.5 sacks and one interception and fell to the Steelers at the 46th overall pick.
“He’s a guy that can do a lot of things for us,” Mitchell said. “He can push the pocket. He can play the run. He can get off blocks, and he can get to the ball. We got a good football player tonight.”
He pulled out of the combine and was unable to participate in the Fighting Irish pro day after a medical scan revealed a left foot fracture that required surgery. The Steelers worked him out privately in Atlanta ahead of the draft.
“My foot is great,” said Tuitt, who had a screw installed in his foot to repair the stress fracture.
Tuitt is somewhat familiar with Heinz Field, having played their twice with the Fighting Irish. He was ejected from the second quarter of the 2013 game after a helmet-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Tom Savage.
“As a defensive player, I think that’s the worst call in America,” he said with a laugh.
He expects to visit Pittsburgh on Saturday, one day after the Steelers welcomed Shazier, the 15th overall pick, to team headquarters, complete with a tour that took him past six Lombardi Trophies.
“It was amazing just to see the trophies in person, seeing them right there by each other,” Shazier said. “The plan is to come here and get a seventh trophy.”
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org