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May 29—Tyson Alualu could have spent the past week in Jacksonville, taking part in the first week of organized team activities under new football coach Urban Meyer. He could have shared a locker room with an old quarterback turned tight end in Tim Tebow and a new franchise passer in Trevor Lawrence.

He could have gone home. Except Alualu realized he already was home.

If not for a few timely turns of events — one involving a real estate transaction, another pertaining to covid-19 — Alualu would be suiting up again for the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars instead of beginning a fifth season with the division champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

On Thursday, after participating in his third OTA session, the 34-year-old defensive lineman explained the change of heart he had in March when he agreed to leave the Steelers for the Jaguars only to reverse course 10 days later.

“It was a little stressful during that time,” Alualu said. “We knew we wanted to stay in Pittsburgh, but we were not reaching an agreement. I felt like in my mind it was a better option to get more money and go back to Jacksonville where it all started.”

Alualu spent his first NFL seven seasons in Jacksonville, which made him the 10th overall pick of the 2010 draft. In March, the Jaguars offered a two-year, $6 million contract — the same deal Alualu received when he joined the Steelers in 2017.

The Steelers’ offer to the free agent nose tackle was for two years but a slightly lower amount: $5.5 million.

Alualu agreed to terms with Jacksonville. Then, as he was preparing to fly to Jacksonville to sign the deal, he contracted covid-19, which resulted in a 10-day quarantine.

Given all of that time in isolation, Alualu began to have doubts about his decision. His Steelers teammates weren’t making it easier, what with the calls from Cam Heyward and position coach Karl Dunbar imploring Alualu not to sign the deal.

“Throughout the whole process, even before we agreed to terms, my teammates and coach Dunbar were calling and checking up on me, wanting me to stay,” Alualu said. “My wife and I had a lot of conversations about what choice we wanted to make. Even after we agreed to terms in Jacksonville, we were talking about it, praying about it. We felt this was the best decision for our family.”

Alualu did have established roots in Jacksonville, but his family had enjoyed living in Pittsburgh the past four years, he said, and he recently built a home here. He also sold the house he had maintained as a second residence in Jacksonville.

“Maybe that played a factor in it having to start all over if we did move back,” he said. “My teammates here, they made me feel wanted like they wanted me back, needed me back. Of course, that’s how I feel. I wanted to stay in Pittsburgh.

“There were a lot of emotions that played into it. I have personal relationships with people in Jacksonville, and I hurt them in the process, but I’m grateful I’m still a Steeler, and I’m still doing what I love in a place that I love.”

The Steelers extended their original offer, which included a $1.95 million signing bonus, and suddenly another veteran piece of the defensive line was back on the roster.

In 2020, Alualu’s presence in the middle in his first year at nose tackle helped the Steelers become stronger at stopping the run. Through the first six games, the Steelers allowed just one 100-yard performance to an opponent. Then, Alualu suffered an MCL sprain early against the Baltimore Ravens and missed the next game. When he returned, he was less than 100%, and the Steelers weren’t nearly as proficient at stopping the run. In the final 11 games, counting playoffs, the Steelers allowed opponents to top 100 yards nine times.

Alualu revealed Thursday that he also dealt with a high ankle sprain late in the season, including the playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns, who rushed for 127 yards.

“Playing in that game was frustrating,” he said. “Just because (stopping the run) was the strength of the team, and we gave up some big runs. Those are things we have to look ourselves in the eye and have to fix. We pride ourselves in stopping the run and getting to the passer.”

Counting Alualu, the Steelers will enter the season with a combined 28 years of NFL experience among the three starting defensive linemen. That puts a premium on the Steelers developing young players to move into the rotation to keep the starters fresh.

Isaiahh Loudermilk was drafted in the fifth round to join Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs, Henry Mondeaux and a handful of others competing for spots as backups.

“I think Tyson, Cam and (Stephon) Tuitt do a really good job of taking care of their bodies and playing well,” Dunbar said. “All of those young guys, they are backing up for a reason, and they try to give us quality reps. The more competition we get in that room, the better it will be for everybody because you want your guys fresh, especially having 17 games this year.”

While many established starters on the Steelers stayed away from OTAs in the initial week, Alualu showed up for the first three sessions.

“It’s beneficial for me as a veteran to be here,” he said. “Just getting reps mentally and physically, but I think it definitely helps out the younger guys by coming in. I’m trying to show them the ropes of how we train, how we work out, how we train our bodies. It’s how we place our blocks or it’s being there when they have questions about our defense and about different techniques.

“It goes hand in hand where we can help each other out on the field.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at or via Twitter .