It’s a good thing for the Pittsburgh Steelers that they have on their roster a quality control coach in veteran defensive end Cameron Heyward, who boasts a keen eye for talent. At least he seems to think so. And he seems to think that their latest defensive first-rounder, outside linebacker T.J. Watt, is already displaying the mental acumen that bodes well for his future.
Heyward, a former first-round draft pick himself, spoke to reporters recently after practice, and according to Mike Prisuta for the team’s website, believes that he is able to get a good feel for young players’ football intelligence early on, judging by, among other things, how they communicate on the field.
“You see some guys, like T.J., they have a good feel for it so far”, the defensive captain said. “Whether it’s his learning curve, I just think he has a good grasp for it. Even though it’s a new position, I think he’s only had a couple years playing it, but he’s a smart guy, he picks up the defense pretty well. He already has a good baseline to start with”.
One thing we didn’t really seem to have much to worry about was whether or not Watt had the athletic ability to play the position at a high level in the NFL. He checks all the boxes in that area. But given his relative newness to the outside linebacker position—and the defensive side of the ball as a whole—it is a pleasant surprise to hear how well he is coming along from a mental standpoint.
Heyward said that he feels he can talk to the young linebacker on the field “and feel like he’s grasping” his assignment and what different cues mean, adding that “it’s not like it’s too much for him”. He gave an example, saying that if he gets upfield on the pass rush, Watt is able to pick up on that and “can make a natural stunt of it”.
“If he can pick that up quick”, the veteran said of his example of the sort of thing he will need to understand in order to be able to contribute early in his rookie season, then “we’re going in the right direction”.
Yet we are, of course, only talking about OTAs, and are talking about a direction, and not a destination. Watt knows as well as anybody that he has by no means arrived, and is looking forward to ramping things up in training camp in order to test himself and his own preparedness.
“We’re just going to keep adding more onto his plate and see if he can take it”, Heyward said. “Sometimes, we might want to do a double-play and be able to switch it throughout the call, let’s see if he can deal with that, little things like that”.
“I don’t want to say he’s ready now”, the team leader said, “but he’s taking the right steps”.
And that’s all you could ask for at this point.