Mike Tomlin absolutely loves Stephon Tuitt, and really, when have you heard Mike Tomlin gush over anybody?
When was the last time you heard Dick LeBeau praise a rookie, let alone a rookie two weeks into training camp?
Usually it goes something like this when you bring up rookies to LeBeau: “It’s not a defense you can come in and play right away. I will never apologize for my defense being hard to learn” or something along those lines.
Yeah, the rookie second-round pick out of Notre Dame has been that impressive two weeks into camp.
Impressive enough to shove Cam Thomas – a guy they gave $4 million over two years in the offseason to play end – to nose tackle to fill in for the concussed Steve McLendon so Tuitt can get reps with the first team.
Thursday will be the fifth consecutive practice that Tuitt lines up at left defensive end with the first team. It is almost assured that he will start Saturday’s first preseason game against the Giants.
This is about when and where we should temper the enthusiasm on Tuitt … at least for now.
Defensive ends in LeBeau’s 3-4 scheme very well could be the most difficult position to learn because of the discipline needed to be successful.
How many times have you heard “gap integrity” or “gap sound” come out of somebody’s mouth. It’s a real thing and it can be devastating, especially to a 3-4 defense.
What is gap inegrity? What that means is that for LeBeau’s defense to stop the run, everybody needs to be in a specific place. If you deviate from your gap assignment, it usually results in a pretty significant gain.
What makes it difficult for a defensive end like Tuitt – or any young defensive lineman — is to be discipline enough to be where you are supposed to be rather than where you think you should be.
How many times did you see Brett Keisel out of his gap over his career, and he’s one of the best to play for LeBeau.
Get out of your gap and the integrity of the defense is shot.
Gap integrity is not easy. Tuitt was a playmaker at Notre Dame and to shove that down the list of priorities for him won’t be a walk in the park.
Now, Tuitt was a pretty good with his gaps in Notre Dame’s 3-4, but this is a whole new level, as we all know.
So, maybe we all should be listening to defensive line coach John Mitchell right now instead of Tomlin or LeBeau. Mitchell told TribLive Radio’s Ken Laird last week: “We’ve been in camp five days and you guys want to make somebody out of something.”
Saying that, Tuitt is pretty good.
But remember, patience.