Film Room: Tyson Alualu’s versatility an asset for Steelers
During the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman and former first round draft pick, Tyson Alualu. Normally when you are selected as a top ten draft pick, you have an important task of producing for your team, with the hopes of getting that big contract extension one day and reaching the promise land in the NFL: the Super Bowl.
While all of those things sound incredible, the Jaguars over the last decade have been what many call a “dumpster fire”. In 2009, a year prior to selecting Alualu, Jacksonville had finished in fourth place in the AFC South but had a somewhat decent record finishing 7-9; realistically two games away from reaching the playoffs.
The 2009 season was a step in the right direction after finishing 5-11 a season before, but General manager Gene Smith thought the 2010 season could be even better if they provided defensive pressure. With the tenth overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, Smith selected who he thought was that difference maker: Tyson Alualu. Many analysts such as Mel Kiper Jr. are on record saying that Smith drafted Alualu too high and that it wouldn’t work out in the long run.
Those analysts were correct as the final statistics for Tyson Alualu in a Jaguars jersey are not too good; at least for an athlete who was once a top ten selection.
Final Jaguars Stats (2010-2016)
- Games Played: 110
- Combined Tackles: 258
- Total Tackles: 177
- Assisted Tackles: 81
- Total Sacks: 17.5
- Pass Deflections: 6
- Interceptions: 0
As you can see by the above statistics, why would the Steelers sign Alualu, knowing that he is not a great player?
Well, it’s quite simple. Over the last few years, the organization has been drafting defensive talent to one day go from an aging old and slow defense to a younger and faster version. That plan has worked out extremely well with defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward as the main starters for 2017, and the addition of Javon Hargrave, who had an outstanding rookie season in 2016.
Therefore, Alualu was brought in for depth and to help Tuitt and Heyward get some extra rest on the sidelines. We have seen these type of defensive lineman come into Pittsburgh and help out Tuitt and Heyward over the last several seasons. Take a look at Ricardo Mathews, who spent the majority of last season starting after Cam Heyward injured his pectoral muscle, and was placed on the injured reserve.
You can never have too much depth on the defensive line and that’s exactly why Pittsburgh signed Tyson Alualu. Here’s how the 30-year-old is perfect as a defensive depth player in Pittsburgh.
Lined Up As Defensive Tackle
Swim move on center | Week 11 2016 vs. Lions
When you think of football you think of being physical at the line of scrimmage. While many NFL teams have this ability, Jacksonville has struggled in recent years. Alualu is an athlete that can line up wherever the defensive coordinator wants to put him.
Versatility is great to have on a football team. If Javon Hargrave was to miss some games in 2017 due to injury, then Alualu can come in and play his position. Same goes with Stephon Tuitt or Cam Heyward who play defensive end. It’s great to have a player that can line up anywhere on a football team.
In the above play let’s take a look at how Alualu lines up: over the center, which means he is the defensive tackle. In this Week 11 showdown versus the Detriot Lions, the Jags absolutely needed to show their dominance early after falling to 2-7 on the season, with four consecutive losses. Lions center Travis Swanson didn’t see what was coming when the former tenth overall selection used a “swim” move on him and sacked quarterback Matthew Stafford.
In the previous film room on Cameron Heyward, I described what a “swim” move is stating:
The “swim move” mechanic by defensive athletes is a way to keep the offensive lineman off guard and to get to the quarterback. You want to give the lineman a little jiggle to freeze him a split second, then you hit him on the shoulder pad and reach over the top like you’re swimming, hence the name, and this should propel you to the quarterback, resulting in a sack.
Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny was the first to come in untouched after a Lions lineman failed to block him. It was Alualu who displayed the great “swim” move and the power to force the pocket to collapse and hold on to Stafford, something that Posluzny failed to do as he fell to the ground getting no sack at all. Not even a half of a sack.
The fact that Alualu has this play in his arsenal means that the defensive line is in better hands than it has been in years. Breather snaps for the starters could very well happen in 2017.
Lined Up As Defensive End
Beats Anthony Castonzo For Sack | Week 4 2016 vs. Colts
Anthony Castonzo is also a former first round pick. Going up against Alualu proved to be a challenge in this Week 4 battle versus the Indianapolis Colts. The former Boston College offensive tackle is 6-foot-7-inches and 311 pounds while Tyson Alualu is 6-foot-3-inches 304 pounds. The height difference is there and when you are a smaller defensive lineman versus a taller offensive lineman, it’s somewhat an easier challenge for that smaller athlete.
Castonzo has had his struggles over the years but 2016 proved to be a solid season for him. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished the season with an 84.3 grade and was the best offensive lineman on his team. While he was the best run blocking lineman, which is very good to be in the NFL, pass blocking was not mentioned.
I have a feeling that the above clip has something to do with that.
Alualu just simply bull-rushed Castonzo to the point that he fell down on the play. This ended up being an easier sack than it had to be but I am very impressed by the power that he displayed above along with his dive toward Andrew Luck‘s legs to register the sack.
Stopping the Run
Stuff LeSean McCoy for a loss | Week 12 2016 vs. Bills
The Steelers want a defensive lineman to be able to get off of his block to either sack opposing quarterbacks or to stop a big run that may occur. Against the Buffalo Bills in Week 12, Alualu registered a big stop on elusive running back LeSean McCoy that set the tone early.
The play was an aggressive tackle and one that the Jaguars needed, already down 7-0 in the second quarter of play. It was a simple run to the right side and Alualu not only read the play, he got off of his block and made the tackle.
These are the type of plays that a defensive depth player needs to make. We as fans of this team do not want to see another Jay Ajayi performance like we did back in week six last season.
If you mix together a little bit of Alualu’s power along with his ability to use the “swim” move and play multiple positions on defense, I truly believe that this is the best defensive depth player Pittsburgh acquired in a long time.
He is way better than Ricardo Mathews, but I can’t dog on an athlete who had a solid season last year filling in for the injured Cam Heyward. It’s just that Alualu looks more polished and maybe, just maybe, with new coaches and a different type of scenery other than Jacksonville, he can provide for this team a little more than what we all expect of him: a benched player who gets some reps only if a star player gets injured.
Alualu hopes to receive playing time because he is producing on the football field and I think he can do just that in 2017.