PITTSBURGH -- This time a year ago, Larry Ogunjobi wasn’t doing much running.
Coming off a failed physical that voided his would-be major deal with the Chicago Bears, the defensive end was at home, rehabbing from the Lisfranc injury to his right foot and subsequent surgery that ended his 2021 campaign and changed the trajectory of his 2022 season.
That’s all behind Ogunjobi now as he enters his second year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He signed a three-year, $28 million deal with the organization in March after racking up 48 tackles in 16 starts last season.
“The energy of the team, going through injury last year and how they took care of me and how they welcomed me with open arms,” Ogunjobi said, explaining his decision to re-sign. “It was super important.”
Ogunjobi joined the team on a one-year, $8 million prove-it deal after minicamp last year to help fill the void created by Stephon Tuitt’s surprise retirement, and though he fought through injuries that severely limited his practice availability, Ogunjobi was a key piece of a top-10 run defense that held opponents to 108 yards per game.
But coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t think the Steelers saw even close to the best version of the former third-round pick last season.
“I don't believe that you did,” Tomlin said in March. “That's the perspective that I have. I think that's the perspective that he has. I think that makes both of us excited about his return and what that might mean. I just think that there's benefit in him being here and knowing what to expect and having been a lap around the track. To go through an offseason where he's not rehabilitating coming off of a surgery has exciting prospects, as well.”
Entering the 2023 season, the seventh-year veteran has both continuity and health -- two things that have been hard to come by recently -- and he figures to be a significant presence in a defensive front laden with veterans and newcomers.
The Steelers were cautious in easing Ogunjobi into training camp last year, but he still dealt with a barrage of injuries to his back, knee and toe.
Though the ailments kept him out of most practices, Ogunjobi played 636 defensive snaps altogether. He exited a Week 5 game early against the Buffalo Bills because of a back injury, and he sustained the knee injury that kept him out against the Philadelphia Eagles, his only missed game of the season.
“It was annoying, but I think it was just kind of where I was at,” Ogunjobi said of not practicing last year. “It's an injury that for a lot of people can be career-ending, and so just being able to do what I was able to do, now I can build off that.”
This offseason, Ogunjobi is ahead of schedule.
In re-signing with the Steelers, the 29-year-old will play for the same organization two years in a row for the first time since spending four seasons with the Cleveland Browns from 2017 to '20. And not only is he familiar with the scheme and his teammates, but he’s able to be on the field with them during organized team activities.
“Last year I couldn't run into July,” Ogunjobi said. “This year I started training like January. I feel great just moving around, getting back into the football field. I'm really excited.”
Ogunjobi leaned on his experience to keep him on the field for game day, but he admitted it was hard to stay consistent without practicing during the week. With no limitations to his offseason training, Ogunjobi believes his personal game is coming back quickly.
“I think from just a feel standpoint,” he said, explaining how a lack of practice impacted him. “Obviously you play with your foundation and what you've been doing for years, but I think just being able to stay on that speed, stay on that trajectory that you've been trying to lay for a long time is important. Having that now, being able to practice, being able to do it full speed and fast, it all translates.”