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Like they did last season, Steelers defensive line corps preps to fill void of Stephon Tuitt

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In the wake of Stephon Tuitt’s retirement announcement this week, how can the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers replace him?

Largely, the same way they did in 2021.

Tuitt didn’t play last season, but eight of the nine defensive linemen who earned snaps for the Steelers last season return in 2022. A promising third-round draft pick has been added, as well as a virtual “addition” of veteran starter Tyson Alualu, whose 2021 season was cut short by a broken ankle suffered early in Week 2.

“A lot of guys throughout the years have stepped up,” Alualu said after an organized team activities session Thursday, less than 24 hours after the Steelers announced Tuitt’s retirement after eight seasons. “Just through experience, we’ll be able to fill that void. We’ll do good. It’s always about the next-man-up mentality. Coaches and culture is always preached, the standard is the standard regardless of who is in there. Collectively, we have to rally around and try to make it happen. ”

Tuitt’s official retirement announcement came Wednesday, but he didn’t play last season while dealing with a knee injury and the hit-and-run death of his brother, Richard. In Tuitt’s stead, Chris Wormley became the third starter along a defensive line that also included veterans Alualu and Cameron Heyward.

For the season-opening win at the Buffalo Bills, Alualu started, merely sliding over to end instead of serving as the nose tackle when the Steelers were in their base defense with Tuitt and Heyward at the ends.

But after Alualu’s injury, Wormley played roughly 75% of the defensive snaps the rest of the season (aside from an absence Weeks 16-17 because of a groin injury and time on the covid-19 list).

Wormley said Thursday that he was “poised to fill that role” again.

“I feel like I took advantage of the opportunity I had last year with Tyson and Tuitt being out,” said Wormley, who confirmed he has sat out practices during OTAs because of an undisclosed minor injury that won’t prevent him from taking part in training camp. “And now knowing that Tuitt is not going to be back, I am excited to continue to have that role that I had last year.”

While Wormley responded in his fifth NFL season by tripling his career sack numbers with seven, the depth behind him and Heyward (who was named All-Pro) was lacking. The play of the young defensive linemen was among the many reasons the Steelers finished with the NFL’s worst rushing defense.

Still, as a rookie fifth-round pick, Isiahh Loudermilk showed promise. As the situation stands now, the 6-foot-7, 249-pound Loudermilk is next in line to serve as a top backup along the defensive line.

“Whether there is an open spot there or not, nothing has changed,” Loudermilk said. “I’m going to do the best I can every day. I’m still working with the guys here for whatever role I have. ”

A more veteran option, particularly at nose tackle, is Montravius ​​Adams, who revived his career during a late-season stint with the Steelers after being signed off the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad. Adams showed enough over six games (including playoffs) that the Steelers re-signed him to a two-year, $ 5 million contract.

Henry Mondeaux (288 defensive snaps in 15 games), Carlos Davis (limited to 50 snaps over four games because of injury) and Daniel Archibong (13 snaps in two games) return after auditions of varying degrees last season. Davis’ twin brother, Kahlil, remains on the roster after joining the Steelers practice squad last year.

A wild card on the defensive line, though, is DeMarvin Leal, a third-round rookie who was an AP All-American defensive lineman for Texas A&M last year. If he shows he’s ready, Leal arguably has the highest ceiling of any of the Steelers’ young defensive linemen.

“I definitely see it as an opportunity,” Leal said, “just being able to get right into it and ball out.”

Wormley, Adams, Loudermilk and Mondeaux – to varying degrees – took advantage of opportunities afforded last year by Tuitt’s absence. Each figures to get more chances to show what he can do in 2022.

“I think the guys we have here are the guys that are going to be with us throughout the season,” Wormley said. “I am excited for some of the younger guys to step up like they did last year. But I am excited for myself and the opportunity that presented itself last year and is this year as well. ”

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Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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