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Stephon Tuitt experiment will take shape in next three months

Hulking.

Physically gifted.

Ideal size and strength.

Versatile.

These are a few terms or phrases applied to 305-pound defensive end Stephon Tuitt during the draft process last season. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Tuitt is a first-round talent who can shed blockers.

Seventeen tackles, one sack and 400-plus NFL snaps later, the Steelers’ second-round pick has shown glimpses, but won’t be handed those labels without more heavy lifting.

Pro Football Focus listed Tuitt, who turns 22 on Saturday, as one of 23 "average" Steelers players. The Steelers can live with "average" for a rookie. Eight Steelers players graded higher than average, according to PFF. There's no shame in "average."

Now he’s got the next three-plus months to shed the "average" label.

“Tuitt has definitely got a high ceiling,” Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward told TribLIVE.com Wednesday. “We’re just going to see how high it is.”

Even established Steelers ends haven’t produced high sack numbers, so perhaps Tuitt’s future impact should be judged by overall disruption.

Now-retired end Brett Keisel produced 9.5 combined sacks in his first two years as a starter. It wasn't until his fourth season that Heyward recorded more than five sacks in a season.

But any push from Tuitt in this area would be crucial. The Steelers recorded 33 sacks in 2014, its lowest total since 1989. Tuitt is one of four front-seven Steelers drafted in the first or second round of the last three drafts. If Jarvis Jones or Bud Dupree aren't ready to apply quarterback pressure, Tuitt needs to be.

Tuitt is an above-average athlete, but isn’t considered a quick-twitch athlete. He must find his advantages up front with strength or technique.

One knock on Tuitt out of Notre Dame was he would lose effectiveness when tired. Tuitt’s play suffered from gaining 20 pounds as a junior, according to an NFL.com scouting report. His sweet spot is probably around 300 pounds.

But even if Tuitt starts, he won’t have to play on every down. He’d be most effective as a primary starter who can rotate in and out when necessary.

If Heyward has his way, Tuitt’s experiences as a part-time rookie starter will pay off in 2015.

“He started a playoff game for us. He helped accomplish winning the AFC North. He’s been in dogfights,” Heyward said.