PITTSBURGH – While other teams around the NFL are dealing with the long-term issues after losing key players during the opening week of the season, the Steelers received some good news Monday on a player they had serious concerns about following their season opener Sunday at Cleveland.
According to defensive end Cam Heyward, the prognosis on fellow defensive end Stephon Tuitt is good and he won’t be out long term after leaving Sunday’s 21-18 season-opening win.
“I am just glad it didn’t wind up being season-ending,” said Heyward. “We are definitely breathing a sigh of relief knowing that he will be able to play down the road.
“I know some people already reported he was going to miss the rest of the season. I texted him just to make sure nothing was finalized. To hear that already, that is something that can be detrimental to you because your psyche is a little bit messed up. We are very happy it wasn’t season-ending and we will get more information soon.”
For his part, Tuitt also seemed happy, posting on his Twitter feed, “The Good Man upstairs Blessed me!!!!”
Pittsburgh feared Tuitt might be lost to them for the season after he suffered a biceps injury in his left arm while making a tackle for a nine-yard loss on Cleveland’s second play from scrimmage. Tuitt also had a quarterback pressure on Cleveland’s first play, forcing DeShone Kizer to scramble for a one-yard gain.
He did not return to the game after the injury. An MRI was performed Monday in Pittsburgh.
The injury came just one day after the team had given Tuitt, 24, a five-year, $60-million contract extension that included an $11 million signing bonus.
With Tuitt out after just two plays, veteran Tyson Alualu saw more playing time.
In fact, Alualu played 54 snaps Sunday, two more than Heyward, who started the game opposite Tuitt. Nose tackle Javon Hargrave also saw some action in the team’s nickel and dime packages and had three tackles and a sack in just 25 snaps.
Alualu was brought in as a free agent for a situation like Sunday. Heyward missed the second half of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, leaving the team thin at defensive end.
Alualu is a former first-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010 and has 87 career starts under his belt.
“Tyson is a good player,” said Heyward. “We had a great opportunity getting him. He solidifies our front. There is a rotation if we need it. We like that rotation. It keeps everybody fresh and there’s not a drop off. Tyson is ready for this role. He is going to do well in that spot.”
Pittsburgh limited Cleveland to 57 yards rushing on 25 carries and sacked Kizer seven times in its victory.
Heyward and Hargrave both had a sack, while Alualu led the team’s defensive linemen with five tackles.
“I have always prepared to go out there and do the best I can and do my job. Do whatever the coaches ask of me and be accountable to the players I am next to,” Alualu said. “I think we have the right group of guys to step up and do their job the best way they can.”
Despite the solid numbers in their first game, Heyward thinks the Steelers can be even better moving forward, especially once Tuitt is back on the field.
“We’ve all got to get healthy. I’m praying for him. I need him back out there,” Heyward said. “I thought we played decent (Sunday). I wouldn’t say we played great. We left even more sacks on the table. We’ve got to get better on our rush lanes and tackle better. There’s a lot you can learn.”
Odds and end zones
Wide receiver Antonio Brown’s 182 receiving yards were the most in the league Sunday. … Rookie T.J. Watt and Anthony Chickillo, who started in place of Dupree, both had two sacks against the Browns, putting them in a tie for second in the league. … With their win, the Steelers improved to 21-4 against rookie quarterbacks since the 2004 season.