Steelers draft Notre Dame DE Tuitt in 2nd round
Stephon Tuitt and Ryan Shazier are making Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau a lot less nervous than he was a couple of days ago.
Tuitt, a 304-pound Notre Dame defensive end who was one of college football's most dominant players two seasons ago, was drafted in the second round Friday night as the Steelers try to quickly rebuild their declining defense.
“It's tremendous,” Tuitt said. “I can't wait to get there and help this team.”
They need it, too. Despite all the pre-draft speculation they would go for a cornerback and a wide receiver early on, the Steelers chose big-school defensive players to fill what, on paper, were the two glaring weaknesses on their depth chart.
Tuitt, who had 12 sacks in 2012 and 21 1⁄2 in his career, likely will slide in immediately at the position vacated by the unsigned Brett Keisel, whose Steelers career is all but officially over.
Shazier is expected to start right away at inside linebacker, where sixth-round pick Vince Williams played by default — and not very effectively — following Larry Foote's season-ending biceps injury in Week 1 last season.
“Sometimes in the past, we've been in a position where our draft picks don't necessarily have to play for a year or so,” LeBeau said. “This is definitely not the case in this situation. Our depth is a challenge.”
So much so, LeBeau acknowledged that still having lineup vacancies more than four months after the end of another 8-8 season gave him “some anxiety” coming into the NFL Draft.
Now, he said, “That anxiety has been quieted greatly.”
The fast-afoot Shazier, whose 4.38-4.4 time in the 40 mirrors that of some top cornerbacks, “is probably the fastest linebacker in the draft, will instantly become one of fastest in league and he's going to make us a faster defense right away,” LeBeau said. “He's going to get up on people quicker than they know, because he's very fast.“
Defensive line coach John Mitchell called the 6-foot-5½ Tuitt “a steal in the second round” who might have been a Top 10 pick if he hadn't developed a hernia following his breakout 2012 season.
Unable to work out during the offseason, Tuitt put on 25 pounds and was forced to play at an uncomfortable 335 pounds in 2013. He took much of it off once the season ended, but a now-healed stress fracture in his left foot kept him from working out at the NFL Combine.
“Now I'm ready to roll,” Tuitt said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. It was meant for me to come to the Steelers. … The history of that defense is tremendous, and I can't wait to put it back up there.”
Much of that perennially top-ranked defense of the last decade is now mostly history. Since finishing No. 1 in total defense in 2011 and 2012, the Steelers have shed every defensive starter except safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor and inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
Gone are cornerback Keenan Lewis, safety Ryan Clark, defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Keisel, nose tackle Casey Hampton, outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison and Foote.
“These (draft) acquisitions and defensive lineman (free agent Cam Thomas) are going to make us a bigger and stronger team,” LeBeau said.