Might Tuitt Walk On Hallowed Ground?

Steelers' young pass-rusher talks about double-digit sacks, blossoming D and Manti Te'o.

PITTSBURGH -- Manti Te'o is finally hitting his stride.

The inside linebacker for the San Diego Chargers made a career-high 16 tackles last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns to give him a team-high 38 for the season.

That number's closing fast on the 61 tackles he made during each of his first two seasons in San Diego.

Te'o, of course, is the highly decorated linebacker from Notre Dame who won just about every college award except for the Heisman, in which he was runner-up in 2012.

"He has a nose for the ball," said Stephon Tuitt, his former teammate at Notre Dame. "He's always around the ball."

None of those 16 tackles last week was imaginary, either.

Like his infamous girlfriend.

Bah-dump-shhh.

Tuitt wasn't about to go there.

"That was his personal life," Tuitt said. "I really didn't care about that, either."

Tuitt wouldn't talk about the legendary "catfishing" story that caused media pandemonium following the 2012 season, but he did offer up some dish on Te'o that isn't normally discussed.

"The defensive line was the best part of Notre Dame," Tuitt said of the team that lost to Alabama in the 2012-13 National Championship Game.

"He won't like that," Tuitt added. "He was a linebacker and he thinks he was. But we helped him out with his interceptions that last season. He doesn't want to give us credit for that but go back and look at film and see who put pressure on the quarterback and helped him get those interceptions."

All three linemen in the Irish 3-4 scheme that season are in the NFL. Tuitt was a second-round pick; New York Giants nose tackle Louis Nix was a third-round pick; and Baltimore Ravens defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore was a sixth-round pick. One of the down outside linebackers, Prince Shembo, was a fourth-round pick but is no longer on an active roster.

In that magical 2012 season, Te'o intercepted seven passes -- his only college interceptions in four seasons -- and made 103 tackles. He was generally regarded as the linchpin of the nation's sixth-ranked defense, and his tackling display last week showed that he might be on his way to justifying his second-round draft status. But it's also becoming clear that it was Tuitt who was that defense's main cog.

Tuitt is showing it off now in his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"My goal was to have 10-plus sacks this year," Tuitt said as he prepares to battle Te'o and the Chargers on Monday night. "I said that in training camp and I believe I can get that."

Tuitt leads the Steelers with 3.5 sacks and should actually have been given credit for a full fourth sack.

The last Steelers defensive linemen to compile 10 or more sacks in a season were Ernie Holmes (11.5) and L.C. Greenwood (11) way back in 1974.

The Steelers converted to a 3-4 alignment in the early 1980s and the most sacks by a defensive lineman in a season since was eight by Aaron Smith in 2004.

Tuitt may have his sights set on hallowed ground but in this evolving 3-4/4-3 scheme, in which the linemen have been turned loose more often, the run defense has suffered. The Ravens last week averaged 4.9 yards per carry as Justin Forsett became the first 150-yard rusher against the Steelers in four years.

"I think we were playing really great defense before the Baltimore Ravens game, and I still think we're playing good defense," Tuitt said. "The Ravens did a good job knowing what we were doing and counteracting what we were doing. A lot of people got a chance to see that. They got a chance to get some big runs, but every game we go into we want to shut down the run and force them to be one-dimensional. That's our main goal."

But against the Ravens, the Steelers changed their focus. They wanted Joe Flacco to go down and they wanted him to go down hard. He was sacked five times and hit eight.

"Yeah, we changed it up and I think we did a good job of that," Tuitt said. "We hit Flacco many, many times. He's a good quarterback and they have an offensive coordinator who saw what we were doing and they hit us with some big runs.

"But our main goal every game is to stop the run and make teams one-dimensional. I feel we can do that. We can play great defense against any team."

Defense was supposed to be the Steelers' weak link this season, but after four games it's allowed season-low point totals to New England and St. Louis and is eighth and 12th in the league in points and yardage, respectively, after finishing 18th in both categories last season. Tuitt sees the upswing continuing.

"I definitely do," he said. "We've got talent everywhere on the football field. Nameless, great faces; Coach Tomlin always says that. But on our team, on our defense, everybody comes here to work and everybody comes in and does their job.

"We have superb talent. Not many people know about us, but by the end of the year I believe they're going to."


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