While picking Stephon Tuitt in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft, helps the Pittsburgh Steelers plug what was a glaring hole at defensive line, Tuitt’s arrival doesn’t so much signal the filling of a void, but rather a fight against precedent on both a symbolic an real level.
Mitchell to Make Changes?
One of the reasons why no one expected the Steelers to draft a defensive lineman early comes down to simple math.
- Rookies do not start for John Mitchell.
Yours truly plans to write about this in depth for Behind the Steel Curtain soon, but the only rookie to get any significant starting time since John Mitchell’s arrival in Pittsburgh in 1994 was Casey Hampton. Mithcell’s M.O. is to take players strip them of all of the habits and technique that they’ve learned in college, and start from zero.
- The problem is, the Steelers situation at defensive line might not allow them the luxry of a 2-3 year apprenticeship that Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward enjoyed.
One option that would give the Steelers some leeway would be to bring Brett Kesiel back for a final year, although that would do little to help Tuitt overcome some of the history he’s facing….
Tuitt vs. Steelers Second Round History on Defensive line Picks
The last time the Steelers took a defensive lineman in the second round of the draft it was when Tom Donahoe traded up to pick Jeremy Staat in 1998. Staat became known for his battle against dsyleixa and exotic hairstyles, but started two games in 3 years for the Steelers.
They had slightly better luck with 1994’s second round pick Brentson Buckner, who started five games as an injury replacement for Gerald Williams. While Buckner played well as a rookie, he lacked the commitment a focus necessary to be a starter, something which he admitted later in his career.
- The Steelers also took Kenny Davidson in the second round of the 1990 draft, who was decidedly average in his two seasons as a starter.
To find an unqualified second round defensive line success you have to go back to Gerald Williams, taken in 1986. Williams was no stud, but he was a solid nose tackle for six years, before Joel Steed’s arrival allowed him to move to defensive end in 1993.
Tuitt vs. History of Fighting Irish in Pittsburgh
Notre Dame might be one of the most storied college football programs in history, but the Steelers have not had much luck drafting players from the Fighting Irish of late (“late” = since the late 1980’s or so.)
The last player the Steelers drafted from Notre Dame was wide receiver Malcolm Johnson whom they picked in the 6th round of the 1999 draft. Johnson played in two games as a rookie, catching two passes for 26 yards. He opened the Steelers 2000 1st preseason game, but got cut during the season, only playing in 4 games.
- In 1991 the Steelers drafted Andre Johnson in the 6th round and Johnson who fittingly played 6 games and then was done.
With Mike Webster aging, the Steelers thought so much Notre Dame center Chuck Lanza that they drafted him in the third round of the 1988 draft. Of course they drafted Dermontti Dawson as a guard a round ahead of him, and Dawson became Webster’s heir.
However, Lanza stuck with the team and has the ignominious distinction of authoring the errant snap to Bubby Brister, which ended the 1989 Steelers shot at upsetting the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisonal Playoffs at Mile High.
- Going even further back and into even more ominous history Willie Fry was a defensive end drafted out of Notre Dame 1978 who failed to make the team…
…However, the most recent Notre Dame defensive lineman drafted by the Steelers came in 1995 when they took the Fighting Irish’s Oliver Gibson in the 4th round of the 1995 draft. Gibson was a nose tackle who saw plenty of time at end, including as a rookie, where he played in 12 games.