May 10, 2014, 6:27 PM EDT
Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.
Yesterday Stephon Tuitt became the second Notre Dame player taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, picked 46th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Here’s a look at how Tuitt will fit with his new team.
2013 defensive end starters: Cameron Heyward, Brett Keisel
The Steelers have not given an offer to free agent Brett Keisel, who has been in Pittsburgh since he was drafted in 2002. In addition to losing the 35-year-old defensive end, the Steelers saw Ziggy Hood go to the Jaguars and Al Woods to the Titans. Of the team’s top four defensive ends from 2013, only Cameron Heyward remains.
2013 seventh-round pick Nick Williams spent his rookie season on the injured reserve and the Steelers also have second-year player Brian Arnfelt, who was an undrafted pickup. Obviously neither player has the talent of Tuitt, and neither has a career tackle.
Barring a free agent pickup, Tuitt should be able to start at defensive end opposite Heyward. Free agent signee Cam Thomas will most likely play between them, giving the Steelers a starting defensive line with an average age of 24.
Of course, Tuitt played in a 3-4 at Notre Dame, so he should feel comfortable in the Steelers system. Tuitt has first-round talent, but injuries restricted his pro day and likely hurt his stock. When at the top of his game (see: 2012), he is a freak athlete with a lot of potential. Gaining 20 pounds in the offseason hurt his 2013 production, which saw a dip in tackles for loss and sacks.
However, as he got himself into playing shape he performed much better. Through the first three games, he had only four total tackles, but finished the year with 50. If healthy and conditioned, he fits the mold for Pittsburgh’s defensive scheme perfectly.
Scouts criticized Tuitt for not being able to shed blocks while tired, so better conditioning would allow him to wreak havoc more consistently. Pittsburgh’s own defensive line coach, John Mitchell, said if healthy, Tuitt would have been a top 10 pick.
Even if Tuitt doesn’t start, he will certain see plenty of time in the defensive line rotation, assuming he is healthy. The Steelers filled a huge need with Tuitt, and he could fit in with the defense very quickly.
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