From the beginning of their professional marriage 2½ years ago, Tyson Alualu and the Pittsburgh Steelers seemed like a perfect fit. So when it came time to extend the partnership this past winter, it was the proverbial a no-brainer from Alualu’s end.
Apparently, it was for the Steelers, too.
“I knew that I wanted to be back here,” the defensive lineman said during minicamp this past week, “and I just wanted to make sure that the feeling was mutual on their end. They shared that, so in the end I just think it made sense.”
With Alualu set to hit the free-agent market for only the second time in a 10-year NFL career, he and the Steelers agreed to a two-year, $5.75 million contract in late February. It was a deal that closely mirrored the two-year, $6 million deal the same two parties had signed 23 months prior that made Alualu a member of an NFL team other than the Jacksonville Jaguars for the first time.
Alualu alleviated what had become a need for the Steelers as a reliable, steady fourth defensive lineman who was not only good enough that the DL play wasn’t going to slip if one of the top three needed spelled — but also someone who was willing to accept that secondary and thankless role behind entrenched starters Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave.
The Steelers had tried the likes of veterans Cam Thomas and Ricardo Mathews, as well low-round rookie draft picks like L.T. Walton and Joshua Frazier in that role. But none worked out.
Alualu was the perfect combination of talent/pedigree (a former top-10 overall draft pick) with a laidback and secure demeanor who had made enough money (more than $22 million) and experienced enough losing (30-82 in seven seasons with Jacksonville) that he was elated to join the Steelers — even as a backup.
“I just have got a feeling of what they’re building here, that we kind of have what it takes,” said Alualu, who is entering his 10th NFL season. “You want to be part of something great, and I think this is going to be it.”
The irony of Alualu’s first season with the Steelers was that although they went 13-3 — five games better than Alualu ever had before in his Jacksonville career — their season came to an end with a playoff loss to none other than the Jaguars.
Then last season the Steelers slipped to 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs.
Still, Alualu’s contributions have been apparent: he has played in all but one of the Steelers’ games, starting seven and adding 61 tackles and four sacks while playing more than a third of the team’s defensive snaps. He has started games in place of Heyward and Tuitt, and he has subbed in at all three D-line spots in the “base” defense as well as on both sides when they go nickel or dime.
Along with a sage-like veteran presence in the locker room and on the field, it is Alualu’s versatility and ability to master any spot on short notice that has made him so under-the-radar valuable for the Steelers.
“It’s not just myself. A lot of the guys here are in that same position where they can play multiple positions,” Alualu said.
“It’s just a group of guys that we have here made it so nice and made it easier decision for me to come back and try to chase that ring.”
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