One of the great advantages of being able to add the presumed successor to James Harrison at the right outside linebacker position while he is still on the team is the fact that he is going to be given a lot of ‘rest days’, when his birth certificate is especially banged up, which gives said successor more opportunities to play higher-quality reps.
In this case, that successor for the Pittsburgh Steelers is 2017 first-round draft pick T.J. Watt, who so far during OTAs has been running quite a bit with the first-team defense along with Bud Dupree on the opposite side, as well as, of course, the rest of the starters.
This is a fact that has not been lost on him, and he has relished and taken advantage of his opportunities to play in the lineup with the starters. He said that “it’s been awesome to get a feel for NFL football at its highest pace against the ones and playing with the ones. It’s definitely shown me the amount of communication it takes and the amount of preparation. Just seeing these guys day in and day out, it’s kind of surreal”.
For most rookies, they tend to have to cut their teeth on the second- or third-team lines. That is the case for his draft classmate, Keion Adams, who has presumably been running primarily with the third-team line, as the Steelers have two other veteran reserve outside linebackers who would command the higher reps in practice.
But Watt still understands his place on the team and in the pecking order, and he understands that he is still learning quite a bit, and that making mistakes is part of the process. And part of that understanding was his excitement of getting past the rookie minicamp and getting into full-team practices.
He said that the rookie minicamp was “night and day” in comparison to what he is doing now, because “everybody knows what they’re doing”. Part of that includes having veterans there to explain things to you. “It’s been a lot easier with the older guys here”, he said. “They’ve kind of brought me under their wing. Bud has been helping me a lot, and James Harrison’s actually been helping me a lot too”.
He is just starting to get a taste for the learning curve, but he is prepared for the challenge. It is a much faster pace than he saw in college or working with the rookies. “You’ve got to adjust quicker, but I feel like I was built for this”, he declared, once again expressing that innate confidence in his abilities while avoiding an air of arrogance.
Watt’s opportunities working with the starting defense will be invaluable later on during his rookie season, and should accelerate his ability to contribute on defense. Not only will he be tested by a better level of competition, he will also have a greater level of familiarity with the teammates that he will be playing with.