LATROBE, Pa. (AP) It took nearly a full season for Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt to really get going in the NFL.
A game-changing late-season hit on Jamaal Charles, one of the league's premier running backs, played a key role in accelerating Tuitt's development, which helped the Steelers surge down the stretch. Tuitt anticipates creating additional similar impact moments as he enters his second season.
''I'm comfortable, I got a chance to understand the game, and now I just play football,'' Tuitt said. ''I just want to get better every day.''
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Tuitt, Pittsburgh's second-round pick in 2014, felt it all come together last December against Kansas City. The 300-pound Tuitt chased down Charles following a short pass and delivered a backside blow to the two-time All-Pro running back, forcing his first career fumble.
''That was probably the game where I was comfortable and understood what I had to do,'' Tuitt said. ''I can't explain it . it was just one of those moments.''
Now the expectations are higher, and impact moments are projected to be more routine rather than the exception.
''He's a lot stronger, faster and he was able to grow mentally as well,'' defensive end Cameron Heyward said. ''We're just looking for him to take the next step and keep growing.
''Tuitt can be a great player in this league. He just has to be consistent and do it on every down.''
Tuitt worked some with the first-team defense during training camp as a rookie, but the Steelers didn't fully hand over the reins. Instead, they opted to bring back longtime veteran Brett Keisel before the season started to add experience to the line.
Keisel served as a mentor to the rookie, who appeared in all 16 games last season. Tuitt's moment came when Keisel's season had ended because of a torn triceps and the rookie starred, making his first career start Dec. 7 at Cincinnati. It was the first of four straight wins as a much-maligned defense forced seven turnovers and allowed an average of 17 points, helping the Steelers win their first AFC North championship since 2010.
Tuitt was a big part of it.
''It was just from hard work throughout the season and having a guy like Brett Keisel in front of me, helping me and guiding me along the way,'' Tuitt said.
Tuitt said the game is slowing down in his second training camp and he's able to play faster. He's also in better shape and playing more physically.
''That just comes with experience,'' Heyward said. ''When a guy gets more snaps and is able to feel the game out a little more, he's going to grow.
''But we're looking for bigger growth this year.''
That could come in the pass rush. New defensive coordinator Keith Butler said he plans to activate the team's defensive line, specifically Tuitt and Heyward on the outside, incorporating the two into the team's rush. It's nothing new for the 6-foot-5, 303-pound Tuitt, one of the nation's best pass rushers with 12 sacks as a sophomore at Notre Dame.
''That's why he was drafted, because he's a big guy that can run, rush the passer and stop the run,'' defensive tackle Steve McLendon said.
Consistently displaying those abilities is the next step for Tuitt.
''You have to relax, play within your position and be ready to perform when your name is called,'' Tuitt said.
NOTES: The Steelers claimed LB L.J. Fort off waivers from New England and placed LB Jordan Zumwalt on the waived/injured list. . TE Cameron Clear (knee), WR David Nelson (shoulder), LB Lawrence Timmons (toe), LB Vince Williams (hamstring), RB Josh Harris (foot), and WR C.J. Goodwin all missed Wednesday's practice. . First-round pick LB Bud Dupree and LB Jarvis Jones were among the Steelers in a scrap with offensive linemen Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum during team drills.
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