Steelers Get Tuitt In Solving Defense

Dick LeBeau entered the draft with anxieties about his defense, but they've been calmed with additions of Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said that his two spanking new rookies, Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt, "are going to get a whole lot of playing time."

LeBeau, whose gone through a run of three Super Bowls with a defense stocked with wily veterans, was asked if this would give him any anxiety.

"(Lacking depth) forced me to have some anxiety coming into this draft," he said. "But that anxiety has been quieted greatly. The general manager and the head coach have taken two defensive players in the first two rounds. That's a blessing for us. We appreciate it. We'll try to bring their fruits to bear."

LeBeau, who played for the 1957 national championship Ohio State team, has seen his share of Buckeye defenders over the years. He ranks Shazier, the first-round blur of an inside linebacker, with the best of them.

"I think he has as much range and intuitive reaction as any of the great Ohio State linebackers that I've watched, and there have been several," LeBeau said. "When you watch their defense play he shows up consistently in every game. He has good vision and range. They ask him to do some things that we'll probably ask him to do, monitor some exceptionally gifted scrambling quarterbacks, things of that nature, and he delivered those types of assignments very well. He's probably the fastest linebacker in this draft, and he will instantly become one of the very fastest in the league. So he's going to make us a faster defense right away. And the two defensive linemen -- one in free agency and one in the draft now -- are going to make us a bigger and stronger team, so we really like these acquisitions."

The first defensive lineman, Cam Thomas, was added in free agency. Sadly, his addition may mark the end of the line for team leader Brett Keisel. Thomas will likely be the transitional bridge between Keisel and Tuitt, the 6-5 1/2, 304-pound defensive end from Notre Dame who was drafted last night with pick 46 in the second round.

"You got to have some big guys out there, no matter how much of a speed package you put out there," LeBeau said. "If the opponent is playing extra wide receivers on first down, those are spread formations but they run the ball a lot. Until you get in third-down-and-longer yardage situations, then you can say they're in a passing mode. So you need big people. We probably do as much as anybody in changing the personnel around and roving people around but you've always got to have some power on the field. A big guy like Tuitt suits that purpose, no matter what the down and distance is. He has value on all downs."

Tuitt drew raves from Steelers line coach John Mitchell, who said that a hernia surgery prior to the 2013 season was a factor in a decline in Tuitt's production from 12 sacks as a sophomore to 7.5 last season.

"He wasn't able to train and he got heavy," Mitchell said. "If you look at him from the 2013 season and you compare him to the 2012 season, you will see a different guy.

"He's over that injury. We look for this guy to be here for a long time. He's a guy that can do a lot of things for us. 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. If this guy had been healthy coming into his junior year, he probably would have been in the top 10 guys drafted. We feel like we got a steal in the second round with our pick."

Tuitt left Notre Dame after his junior season and won't turn 21 until May 23. Mitchell said he doesn't need to add much more than 5-10 pounds, and Mitchell has to like Tuitt's long 34 3/4-inch arms.

Tuitt didn't work out at the combine because of a foot injury, but at the combine said he had already begun to get into shape after the long season.

"When we worked him out in Atlanta he had shed quite a few pounds," Mitchell said. "This guy is a productive guy. The injuries are behind him."

If Tuitt returns to his 2012 form, he'll in turn help Shazier make plays in the middle of the field. LeBeau was asked if Shazier can be a chess piece in the way Troy Polamalu has been over the years.

"I think that's a possibility," said LeBeau. "We'll see exactly what his skill set entails, but from what I've been able to glean from watching him play there's not a heck of a lot that you can ask him to do that he doesn't have athletically the ability to do it. He can really run. I've been impressed with his instincts, the way he can diagnose and get through some trash and get to the ball. It's going to be fun with him, to be honest with you, because he's got the athleticism to drop back into coverage and match up and he's got speed. I think he's going to be a problem. He's going to get on people quicker than they know, because he's very fast."

On paper, the Steelers have improved their defense greatly, and without drafting a cornerback.

Does LeBeau have any anxiety about finding another cornerback?

"I think there are some good ones," he said. "I feel good about the cornerbacks that we have. We have more numbers there than people realize."

And then he smiled.

"I guess you can't take a defensive guy with every pick," LeBeau said. "But maybe we'll get a corner the next one."

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