The best way to excel in school is to treat it as though it’s your job. And when it’s your job, the best way to excel in football is to treat it as though you’re in school. That is the approach that Pittsburgh Steelers rookie first-round outside linebacker T.J. Watt is taking as he prepares to make the jump from the amateur to the professional ranks.
The younger brother of the studious and dedicated J.J. Watt, the Steelers’ new pass-rusher should have no problem finding the appropriate role model to teach him how to become a professional—of course, that is one that he has already had for years, which puts him a bit ahead of the curve, even as he continues to transition to a fairly new position.
“You have to be smart about your studies”, Watt said about diving headfirst into the playbook. “You have to take study breaks, it’s just like school. I will go back to the hotel, study my plays, take a break, and do it again”. He emphasized that “you don’t want to get overloaded with information yet”; that “you want to absorb as much as you can, but not get overwhelmed”.
Also to his advantage, even though he has only been playing the outside linebacker position for a couple of years, is the fact that, while he was playing that role with Wisconsin, they had already asked of him nearly everything that the Steelers will be looking for him to be able to do in their defense, so at least he will not have to learn entirely new skillsets.
“This is my job now”, Watt said, speaking truth to power. “So it’s my job to get that playbook down. There’s no excuse not having it down”. Of course, we know all too well that not every professional football player approaches the studious aspect of the game with nearly the same attitude.
Football may now be his job, but it’s not a starting one just yet, and he is guaranteed very little as far as playing time goes in his rookie season. His opportunities to see the field on defense will have to be earned, rather than handed to him, by demonstrating to the coaching staff that they can put him on the field and trust that he will be able to carry out his assignments.
Technically speaking, no matter what the hope for the future may be for Watt, the reality is that there is no obligation for the Steelers to play him this year should he prove not to be ready. They already have their two starting outside linebackers, and they also have two veteran depth players at the position, both of whom have starting experience.
But I wouldn’t worry too much about Watt struggling to earn playing time this year, as he clearly seems to have his head screwed on straight, and we already knew that he had the physical traits that will allow him to play at the NFL level.