Stephon Tuitt's monumental leap in his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers was undeniable. But Tuitt's work ethic and mental toughness may have taken another significant step in February when the 6-6, 303-pound defensive end took his training to Scottsdale, Arizona, with James Harrison for a rigorous program.
“Yeah, we trained with a guy named Ian (Danney) in Arizona,” Tuitt said. “It was a good place to go to get stronger, to understand my body and grow personally. Everything is about moving forward. When training camp comes I’m hoping to be where I want to be. This is all just part of getting there.”
Tuitt made it clear that while he's shown the ability to play at a high level, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
“Now it is about working on the little things: hand placement, when to react, certain down percentages," he said. "When I can master those things, that’s when I can take my game to another level.”
Tuitt has been wildly encouraged by the growth and cohesion of the defensive unit this offseason, to the point where the young defensive lineman stopped just short of guaranteeing a Super Bowl run for the Steelers.
“I think about it every day and I imagine everybody else here thinks the same thing," he said. "We were a game away, or two games away if you want to consider that (winning the Super Bowl), but a game away. We fell short. We know what that taste is like, and we did it with a young team, a young defense. Toward the end of the season last year we were starting to come up in the rankings and show everybody what we could do.
“I think this year we’re going to have a great unit. Everybody talks to each other, everybody knows each other, everybody knows the defensive scheme. We should be real dominant. I believe we’re going to be dominant. I believe we’re going to be able to go to the Super Bowl because of our dominance. And when our defense is dominant and our offense is producing points like we’re going to, we should be the number one rated team out there.”
L.T. Making Progress
It was a strong day for L.T. Walton, who earned praise from defensive line coach John Mitchell in positional drills, and then later from Mike Tomlin after the defensive end bullied his way into the offensive backfield during a scrimmage period. Tuitt echoed his coach’s sentiments on the 2015 sixth-round pick, saying how far Walton has come over the past year.
“This is going on L.T.’s second season and he’s come a long way, from getting yelled at by Coach Mitch to getting less yelled at,” Tuitt said with a laugh. “He’s going to be really good for us too.”
Tuitt’s comments about Mitchell shouldn’t come as a surprise. The veteran coach is emphatically vocal and doesn't hesitate to call out a player when his performance isn’t as strong as it should be.
“Working with Coach Mitch is a love-hate relationship sometimes," Tuitt said. "One minute you can be on his good side, the next minute he’s cussing you out. He’s a great coach, he’ll get the best out of you, and as you can see with our defensive line, our numbers reflect what coach has done with us. Lots of hard work, running to the ball, and doing all the little things right.”
Coates Key To Life After Miller, Bryant
On a young team, the absence of an established veteran can have a negative effect on a unit, but Sammie Coates made it clear that the Steelers are learning how to handle life without Heath Miller.
“You know, Heath was a great player," said Coates. "He’s always going to be remembered even though he wasn’t much of a talker. He’d go out and put his work in front of you. We know he’s not here and you can feel that, because he was that guy who made clutch plays, but we've got a lot of guys stepping up, got a lot of great tight ends here still, so it’ll be fun to see who steps up and fills that spot.”
With Martavis Bryant suspended for the season, there's no doubt the expectation for Coates to produce will be much greater this season compared to last. If that pressure has fazed the Auburn product, Coates isn’t showing it.
“I just go out and play," he said. "As a football player, there isn't any pressure. Pressure is for somebody else, in another job. I’m just a football player. I’ve just got to be ready and focused to do a good job.”
Coates has been impressed with the snippets he’s seen from first-round pick Artie Burns, who also had a strong practice Tuesday.
“He’s a great player," Coates said. "He’s really long and he’s going to help us out a lot. All the defensive backs have been great in OTAs, it’s been great competition out here.”
* Bruce Gradkowski wasn't on the field but the quarterback’s energy was palpable from the sidelines. Before stretches, Gradkowski ran along the line of players yelling and high-fiving, stopping only when he reached the end of the group to shoot imaginary jump shots with Tuitt.
* Robert Golden takes his work as a wide receiver seriously. Yes, you read that correctly. During positional drills, each cornerback takes his turn simulating a receiver for one of their teammates in one-on-one matchups. Golden beat Jordan Dangerfield inside on a slant route, shouting, “You wanna play? You wanna play? I’m too big!”
* After saying last week that his goal was to get his hands on more passes, Ross Cockrell came up with two interceptions Tuesday. First-year newcomer Al-Hajj Shabazz forced his third turnover in the past two practices, making an athletic adjustment down the field to snag a pass away from Levi Norwood.
* Prior to practice, the Steelers released a pair of undrafted rookies -- tight end Jay Rome and OLB Tyriq McCord -- and signed tight end Paul Lang (6-5, 260), a strong blocker from Michigan State and Mt. Lebanon, and outside linebacker Kevin Anderson (6-4, 244) from Stanford.
* Senquez Golson ran on the side for the training staff.
* Bud Dupree missed another practice because of a minor injury.