PITTSBURGH -- Steelers cornerback William Gay was asked about the daunting task of stopping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons' passing game on Sunday, and Gay answered with some misdirection.
"Try to stop the run and get to the passer," Gay said. "That's how you control the receivers."
Enter Stephon Tuitt, the rookie who started his first game at defensive end last Sunday, the rookie who helped hold the Cincinnati Bengals to 86 yards rushing, the rookie who planted his helmet into Andy Dalton's midsection and sent the quarterback to the sidelines at a critical juncture in the game.
"He came back after that play," said Tuitt. "I was shocked, but he's a tough quarterback. At the same time, yeah, that was my favorite play."
Tuitt laughed heartily at the reminisce. And why not? It was a big league play by a young player who's paid his dues.
Remember defensive line coach John Mitchell's comments in the spring?
"The guy's strong, he's fast," Mitchell said about Tuitt, the team's second-round pick. "As soon as he can comprehend what we're doing and learn how to do it our way, he'll be a guy we can go to war with. But you can't go to war with him today, tomorrow, or next week."
Remember Mitchell's comments in August?
"He's lost," Mitchell said before throwing up his hands at the follow-up question that dealt with Tuitt and the starting lineup.
"He's a long ways away," Mitchell said in exasperation. "We're not even thinking about that. Not even close."
Steelers fans didn't want to hear that at the time, or any time when it comes to rookies. Many fans want their top draft picks thrown into the fire right away, to learn, they reason, the way Ryan Shazier learned.
Of course, Shazier, the first-round draft pick, is not getting any snaps these days. The grumbling around the team is that he doesn't work hard enough, that he was given too much too soon, and now he's paying the price on the bench.
Tuitt, on the other hand, has been forced to work for everything he's now getting. And with Brett Keisel down, Tuitt's getting quite a bit.
How did he feel he played against the Bengals?
"I made a couple mistakes," he said. "But I can get better at it."
Unlike in some of his previous appearances, Tuitt's mistakes weren't noticeable Sunday. There weren't any wide-open gaps after being washed out of plays. Those were big, rookie mistakes, but teachable moments.
"I didn't make any big mistakes, just some communication things on the D-line," he said after his grand unveiling.
Tuitt, of course, called his hit on Dalton his favorite play. It occurred in the fourth quarter, just after the Steelers had taken a 35-21 lead. It was perhaps the finishing blow. Did it pump up his teammates?
"No," Tuitt said. "Like I said, they all knew I can play the way I played. I worked hard. I worked hard when Keisel was here, as if I was going to go in the game for 50, 60 snaps in the first place. I just went out in practice and did what I do: worked on my game and stayed humble at the same time."
During his prep period, Tuitt kept his head down, his nose clean and took the hard coaching while waiting for his opportunity. No one likes that it came about because of an injury to Keisel, but everyone understands the ways of this business. So now, instead of working hard and merely imagining he'll get 50 snaps per game, Tuitt knows he'll get them.
Does that make a difference?
"No. The only difference now is that I get more massages," he said with another laugh. "Look, I'm happy we got the win, but I'm also hard on myself. I want to make sure that I stay hungry, that I keep working to be the best football player I can be, a perfect football player. Knowing that I'm trying to get that goal, it makes me want to come to work every day and try to be that perfect football player.
"I still make little mistakes in practice. That really gets me, because I know it but I still made the mistake. I know it's just learning, and so I guess it builds mental toughness in my head. But being a professional is so important to me."
NOTES -- RT Marcus Gilbert returned to practice after a two-week absence. Missing Wednesday's workout were Gay (quadricep), OLB James Harrison (knee) and CB Ike Taylor (shoulder, forearm). Given the practice off were DE Cameron Heyward, TE Heath Miller and QB Ben Roethlisberger. ... Missing the walk-through practice in Atlanta were WR Jones (hip), CB Robert Alford (wrist) and S William Moore (foot). Falcons Coach Mike Smith was asked about Jones' injury and Smith said, "He has made a good turnaround. We aren't even 48 hours from the end of our last game. We anticipate that he will continue to progress as the week goes on. ... We certainly hope that the turnaround continues and that we will have him on Sunday." ... Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his 235-yard rushing and receiving performance against the Bengals.