PITTSBURGH -- Stephon Tuitt, the Steelers' rookie second-round draft pick, the manchild who drew raves from his coach in private meetings last August, the big, fast and powerful defensive end with the immense potential, has been receiving less playing time as the season has progressed.
One would think the opposite should be occurring with such a blue-chip defender.
But after taking part in 15 snaps in the rotation at defensive end in the second game of the season, Tuitt saw only nine snaps the following week at Carolina, and then only two snaps Sunday against Tampa Bay.
As the kids say: What up with dat?
"When I get the playbook down I'll be able to play," said Tuitt with a good-natured smile.
But don't let the smile belie his competitiveness. He's just been raised to respect his coaches.
"Of course it's frustrating," he said. "I'm not used to being used the way I am. But at the same time it's teaching me patience and teaching me a sense of love for the game, to appreciate when I get the chance to do some things. Yes, I want to say I'm mad because I'm not playing, but I would rather take it as an opportunity to get better in the playbook and understand this playbook as much as I can so when the opportunity does come to me I'll be able to take off with it."
All of his coaches, including the head man, believe Tuitt will "take off with it" once he gets it down. They realize Tuitt is still just a kid. He might be 6 foot 5, 310 pounds, but he only turned 21 last May after leaving Notre Dame following his true junior season. And even in that season he struggled with injuries and finished with 4.5 fewer sacks than he had his sophomore season.
That's why the Steelers were able to grab what they felt was an upper first-round talent in the middle of the second round. But now he's learning how to become a pro. He was asked how much of the playbook he does have down pat?
"Not all the way yet," he said. "Not the way that most of the other guys in here have it down that have been in the system for a while. At the same time, it's not about you making plays, it's about you helping somebody else make plays as well. That's the part that I'm learning."
Steelers defensive ends take on blocks in the hope the linebackers can flow to the ball and make the plays. But there's also a playmaking element to the position, and with Cameron Heyward (9) and Brett Keisel (8) combining for 17 of the team's 36 quarterback pressures, the position isn't crying out for any rookie help. Cam Thomas ranks right up with Keisel in snaps, and is tied for third on the team with four pressures. Those veterans have pushed Tuitt's timetable back a bit.
"As far as understanding the playbook, I want to try to get it as fast as I can, as much as I can," Tuitt said. "That's my time frame with the playbook. Playing wise, my time frame is just whenever the opportunity comes. I'm not going to rush it."
Is the concern that he might foul up an assignment and leave his gap wide open?
"Oh, yeah. Especially that," he said. "This is the NFL. If you're not in the right gap one time, that could be the play that changes the whole game.
"I'm learning now, and I'm learning to break down film. That's the process I'm going through as a rookie. All of the film work that we do, the early hours we have to be here to watch film with Coach Mitch (John Mitchell), that stuff as a player, is starting to develop -- film watching, learning tendencies about the offense."
How does he accelerate the learning process?
"Every day in practice," he said. "Practice is our main goal. Practice, the way you come out and practice, is the way you're going to perform on game day. That's the way we do things around here."
NOTES -- LG Ramon Foster, who was scratched from games late in the last two weeks because of an ankle injury, returned to practice Wednesday and said he's confident he'll play Sunday in Jacksonville. Foster confirmed that his replacement, Cody Wallace, was back at backup center in practice, which is an indication the staff is ready to let Foster back in the game-day lineup. ... Key players missing Wednesday's practice included James Harrison (illness) and several non-injured veterans: Brett Keisel, Heath Miller, Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu. Limited were RT Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and WR Markus Wheaton (groin).