The Pittsburgh Steelers were hoping that a return of a healthy defensive line would solidify the weaknesses their defense displayed last season. While they did get Tyson Alualu back this year, Stephon Tuitt decided to retire, but they had the opportunity to replace him, at least for the 2022 season, with Larry Ogunjobi, a rather accomplished player in his own right.
The sixth-year veteran will start opposite Cameron Heyward, and he hopes to continue to build off of where he left off last season with the Cincinnati Bengals, a system that allowed him to use more of his athleticism, and which translated into a career year. He talked this week about the importance of being able to play with both power and finesse.
“I think it’s a combination of both, being able to incorporate power and then hit them with finesse moves and having the ability to do more when given the opportunity”, he said, via the team’s website. “Just being able to kind of change the angle of departure when you’re moving, trying to make plays. I feel like if you’re all just power, power, power and you hit them with something different, you kind of keep them on their toes”.
A third-round pick out of Charlotte, Ogunjobi was originally drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2017, signing with the Bengals last season as an unrestricted free agent after playing out his rookie contract. He originally agreed to terms on a three-year, $40.5 million deal with the Chicago Bears this past March, but the contract fell through after he failed his physical.
That failed physical, and the reason behind it, is why he was available for the Steelers to sign in June. He suffered a foot injury during the Wildcard Round in the postseason with the Bengals back in January, which required offseason surgery.
The Bears were not comfortable back in March to commit that kind of money to him without knowing more about how his foot was going to heal. Pittsburgh had the added benefit of having a couple of extra months to see how it plays out, before ultimately signing him to a one-year, $8 million contract.
Ogunjobi does have three seasons with 5.5 or more sacks in his career as a starter over the past four years, but he posted a career-high seven last season in Cincinnati, where he also had a career-high 16 quarterback hits—and his 12 tackles for loss also marked his best total in a season.
The Steelers need him to be that kind of impact player, both in the passing game and against the run. They do believe that they have done a better job of insulating themselves against injury this year, though they could never have counted upon Tuitt’s situation in 2021, nor Alualu’s fractured ankle in week two.