LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers rookie defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt’s first NFL training camp is going better than he could have imagined.
Tuitt spent last weekend working with the first team, a promising start for a player the Steelers need to mature quickly.
It’s uncertain if the second-round pick will stay with the starters when the team opens the preseason Saturday at the New York Giants.
Not that it matters to the 21-year-old Tuitt, who is paying no attention to where he’s at on the depth chart.
“I had a chance to experience something different and get a chance to play with the first-team players,” Tuitt said. “I thought it went well.”
Tuitt learned he would be with the starters just before the start of practice on Saturday. He went about his job for the 2½-hour session at Saint Vincent College, but found time to enjoy the moment afterward.
“I was focused, but after I got off the practice field, I called my mom,” Tuitt said. “There’s still a lot for me to learn. I think right now, all I’m doing is working hard and it has been showing. That’s the best I can give to my teammates.”
Tuitt will likely have an opportunity to make his impact this season.
The Steelers needed immediate offseason help along the defensive line after losing starters Ziggy Hood and backup nose tackle Al Woods in free agency and deciding not to re-sign longtime veteran Brett Keisel.
Pittsburgh selected Tuitt, the former Notre Dame standout, with the 46th overall pick. The Steelers felt they landed a bit of a steal, believing Tuitt could have gone in the first round had he been healthy entering his junior year.
“He has all the talent in the world,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “You just love the intangibles he brings, his character and ability to work hard.”
Tuitt had 47 tackles and was among the nation’s leaders with 12 sacks during a dominant breakthrough sophomore season at Notre Dame in 2012. But he suffered a fractured foot and a sports hernia last year and put on an extra 25 pounds. The added weight affected his play, though he still totaled a career-best 50 tackles and 7½ sacks.
Now, the 6-foot-5 Tuitt is healthy and his listed weight with the Steelers is 303. It’s significantly lighter than where he was at last fall. Heyward has already taken notice of Tuitt’s athleticism.
“I think he has a lot of explosion,” Heyward said. “The one thing you love about his body frame is that he carries it well and he’s able to explode through the line. He moves very well for someone his size.”
His work ethic caught the eye of coach Mike Tomlin.
“He’s in great shape, he’s highly conditioned, he’s chasing the ball and he’s developing the skill associated with the position,” Tomlin said. “He’s got a ways to go, but I like his attitude and approach.”
Squaring off against the starters on the offensive line should go a long way toward helping Tuitt develop quickly.
“These guys are the best at the level they are at,” Tuitt said. “To go against them every day is a blessing because these are some of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. They’re helping me become a better defensive lineman.”
Tuitt has displayed flashes during training camp practices. He has disrupted the pocket, stuffed the run, and batted down passes at the line of scrimmage. He still has a long way to go, but the progress in one week has been enough to earn the Steelers’ second-round pick a spot with the starters at least for now.
“He’s a great talent,” Heyward said. “He’s very raw, but I think he’s going to mature a lot this season. We’re really excited about what he’s going to do this year.”