The Latest from Priority Sports
The Latest from Priority Sports
Ben Roethlisberger isn't the only Steelers player hoping to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional playoff round.
Defensive end Tyson Alualu also is on record as wanting another crack at the Jaguars, who defeated the Steelers, 30-9, during the regular season.
Alualu's motives are more deep-rooted than those of Roethlisberger, who wants to redeem himself after throwing a career-high five interceptions against Jacksonville in October.
Alualu spent the first seven seasons of his career in Jacksonville before signing a two-year, $6 million contract with the Steelers in free agency.
“For sure, I want to do that,” Alualu said about the prospect of playing Jacksonville. “Of course I do, especially because they came up here and got the better of us.”
Alualu left Jacksonville for a chance to play in the postseason, and he probably never thought the Jaguars would reverse years of failure by going 10-6 and winning the AFC South. His best year in Jacksonville was 2010, his rookie season, when the Jaguars went 8-8. In his final six years there, the Jaguars averaged fewer than four wins a season.
For the first time in his career, Alualu didn't head home after the final game in the regular season. The first week of January typically consisted of Alualu, his wife and four kids heading to Utah to visit friends and “do all kinds of activities in the snow.”
This year, Alualu could get to spend his January playing football in the snow.
“I definitely came here to win games and get a chance at the playoffs,” he said. “So far, it's going as good as it can. Hopefully, we can finish and get the ring.”
Jacksonville made Alualu the No. 10 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He was taken three picks after cornerback Joe Haden went to the Cleveland Browns and eight picks before the Steelers selected center Maurkice Pouncey.
The three players now occupy the same locker room, although Pouncey is the only one of the trio who has played in the postseason.
“I'm excited for them,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “This is a great opportunity. He's never been a part of this. For him and Joe to be a part of this, I'm excited to see what they can do for us in the playoffs.”
While Haden signed with the Steelers in late August so he could start for a Super Bowl contender, Alualu signed knowing he would come off the bench and spell Heyward and Stephon Tuitt in the defensive end rotation.
Alualu played 44 percent of all defensive snaps, trailing nose tackle Javon Hargrave (46), Tuitt (58) and Heyward (80).
“I knew I was coming into a good group,” Alualu said. “I came in with the mindset of I knew where I could get in (to games), then I could make the most of my opportunities. I'm blessed to be around these guys.”
The feeling is mutual for Heyward, who watched the Steelers go through a series of veteran reserve linemen in prior years before the Alualu signing. Alualu set a career-high with four sacks, the final two coming in the season finale against Cleveland when Heyward was rested for the postseason.
“Tyson doesn't talk about (the playoffs), but we are all appreciative of what he does,” Heyward said. “He doesn't say a lot, but his play speaks for itself.”
Alualu's second sack against the Browns was No. 56 of the season for the Steelers, which set a franchise single-season record. Playing 75 percent of the defensive snaps, Alualu had a game-high eight tackles, four of which went for a loss.
“Sometimes the results don't add up for a lot of guys, particularly defensive linemen because you think they have great games, but they don't always get recognized for it because they don't have the stats,” Heyward said. “For Tyson, to set his career high ... he's been in the league that long, you are happy for him.
“You are happy that the work he is doing is paying off.”
With the Steelers wrapping up a bye week Friday, Alualu is happy for the chance to keep practicing. As much as he enjoyed his early-January family trips to Utah, it couldn't beat preparing for his first playoff experience.
“For sure,” he said. “That's why I'm here, to be a part of this.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.