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The D’s new man in the middle
After Javon Hargrave departed in free agency, the Steelers were left with only one nose tackle on their roster. But Big Dan McCullers, even in his seventh season, was a relative unknown, so the Steelers moved veteran Tyson Alualu – from his end position in the base and tackle position in the nickel – over to the nose. “He was the best option to push Dan, to make Dan step up to the challenge,” said defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
Oh, Alualu pushed McCullers – right off the roster. Alualu won the job, and pretty much owns the nose when the Steelers do use that 3-4 front to stuff the run.
Ask Saquon Barkley. The Steelers played an awful lot of old-school 3-4 in the opener and battered the third-year star running back for the Giants, holding him to 6 yards on 15 carries.
The Steelers stuffed the two-time 1,000-yard rusher, and Alualu played a key role. He made four tackles, with two for loss, both of Barkley. The second tackle-for-loss right before the
two-minute warning of the first half, with the Giants leading 10-9, helped set up the Steelers' late-half touchdown drive.
The following week, against the Denver Broncos, Alualu made five tackles and sacked QB Jeff Driskel for a 10-yard loss. It set the Bron-cos back to the Pittsburgh 40, from where they missed a 58-yard field goal. The Steelers held on for a five-point win with the Broncos failing late on fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 15.
Alualu had only one tackle in Week 3 against the Houston Texans, but was integral to a front that allowed 29 yards rushing on 15 carries. It established the Steelers as the NFL's No. 1-ranked run defense heading into their sched-uled Week 4 game at Tennessee. It also established Alualu as the leading tackler on the defensive line.
After three games, Alualu had 10 tackles, three for loss, in 88 snaps. Cam Heyward, in 148 snaps, had seven tackles, one for loss; and Stepho Tuitt, in 150 snaps, had six tackles, two for loss.
Not bad for a guy moved to nose tackle for motivational purposes. But Mike Tomlin knew Alualu possessed greater value.
“Tyson's a veteran football player who's been here and knows how to play the game,” Tomlin said in announcing Alualu would open camp as first-team nose tackle.
The Steelers made a similar move 20 years ago when they brought in 29-year-old Hawaii native Kimo von Oelhoffen (6-4, 299) to play nose tackle. He had been a defensive tackle for the Bengals.
“Dermontti Dawson said Kimo gave him problems all the time at nose tackle,” said former Steelers guard Craig Wolfley. “Tunch (Ilkin) likes to compare Kimo and Tyson, and, yes, they
are very similar. They're tremendously athletic. They're both intelligent and play with leverage, whether it's one-on-one or planing their body to take on the double team. They're both unusu-ally good with their hands. Some guys never seem to get the hand-fighting that occurs in that close-quarter combat range, but that's something that obviously Tyson shares with Kimo.”
Alualu shares a similar story. Tyson’s a Hawaiian, 6-3, 304, and moved to nose tackle at 30. Both Alualu and Von Oelhoeffen surprised with the ease of making the transition.
”Tyson's an active nose guard,” Wolfley said.
“He does a nice job of competing in both A gaps simultaneously and he comes down the line of scrimmage. He plays with a low pad level and he's very strong. He looks like he's playing bigger and stronger at the point of attack.”
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