PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers believe they have plenty of depth along the defensive line.
It will be tested after the team placed veteran defensive end Stephon Tuitt on the injured reserve/return list.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Wednesday that Tuitt is dealing with a knee injury but did not get into specifics about the severity of the issue. Butler did confirm it's one of the reasons why Tuitt did not practice with the team at all during training camp.
"His knee is bothering him, as far as I know,” Butler said. “I don’t know everything about his knee, I just know it’s slowing him down right now.”
While Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has insisted that the 28-year-old Tuitt — who is coming off a career-best 11 sacks in 2020 — is “fine,” he is also helping his mother grieve the loss of his younger brother. Richard Bartlett III, 23, died after being struck in a hit-and-run accident in Georgia in June.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know how I’d handle my mom watching her son die,” Butler said. “I don’t know if I could handle that. So, I’m not sure what to tell you, other than that his knee is bothering him a little bit and he might be a little bit overweight and what he’s doing with his mother."
Butler added he believes the Steelers will get Tuitt back, but declined to offer a guess on when that might be. Under NFL rules, the earliest Tuitt will be able to practice with the rest of the team is in three weeks. The Steelers prepared for Tuitt's loss by keeping eight defensive linemen when rosters were trimmed to 53 on Tuesday, including rookie Isaiahh Loudermilk.
“It gives our young guys the chance to develop a little bit more. Not to say that our young guys aren’t going to play,” Butler said. “We always rotate people early in the season, and the reason we do that is because it’s very hard to get in what I call ‘hitting shape’ and cardiovascular shape unless you do it. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got enough people."
The defensive line isn't the only group scrambling with the opener against Buffalo looming. The totally revamped offensive line will begin the season without right tackle Zach Banner. Banner joined Tuitt on IR/return with a knee issue.
Banner missed almost all of 2020 after tearing the ACL in his right knee in a Week 1 win over the New York Giants. Pittsburgh signed veteran B.J. Finney — released on Tuesday — and Rashaad Coward on Wednesday to offset Banner's absence.
The Steelers experimented in practice this week by moving left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor to the right side and having rookie Dan Moore Jr. work at left tackle.
First-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada stressed the Steelers haven't determined what exactly their retooled offensive line will look like against the Bills.
“We’re just looking at those possibilities and what’s the best for us,” Canada said. “We’ve not yet really determined what that’s going to be. Chuks played a lot on the right last year, as you know. Dan’s been on the left in his previous life and what he’s done before.”
Whatever the lineup, only one starter — Okorafor — returns from the group that took the field for a 48-37 loss to Cleveland in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We’re looking at how the best pieces fit working by themselves, working next to somebody else, where they’re most comfortable, where it gives us the best advantage matchup-wise,” Canada said. “Nothing’s set in stone.”
PRACTICE SQUAD UPDATE
Pittsburgh added cornerbacks Mark Gilbert and Donovan Stiner to the practice squad on Wednesday. They also took a flier on former Raiders first-round pick Karl Joseph.
Joseph, a safety, was the 14th overall pick in the 2016 draft. He spent the first four seasons of his career with the Raiders before signing with Cleveland for the 2020 season. Joseph had 67 tackles and one interception in 14 games for the Browns.
The Steelers also signed WRs Steve Sims, Rico Bussey and Cody White, RBs Trey Edmunds and Jaylen Samuels, OLs Chaz Green, John Leglue and Malcolm Pridgeon, TE Kevin Rader, LBs Derrek Tuszka and Christian Miller and DL Daniel Archibong.
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