The days of Pittsburgh Steelers rookie defensive players waiting a considerable amount of time before they see extensive playing time now appear to be long behind us and that was never more evident than last season when the team’s top three draft picks, cornerback Artie Burns, safety Sean Davis and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, all ultimately become starters and played a considerable amount of snaps during their first NFL seasons.
The Steelers top draft pick this year was former Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt and veteran outside linebacker Arthur Moats said over the weekend in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he believes there’s no reason to think that his new teammate won’t start seeing the field on defense sooner rather than later.
“It’s night and day when it comes to the mental load that he [Dick LeBeau] would put on players and require of them compared to what we have with Coach [Keith] Butler,” Moats said when talking about how tough it was for younger players to start seeing the field back when Dick LeBeau was the team’s defensive coordinator. “But, I feel like with T.J., the thing that benefits him the most is that when he came from Wisconsin, he said that a lot of the schemes and stuff that he ran there, and concepts, carried over to what we are running here.
“So, I can definitely tell his learning curve hasn’t been as steep. He doesn’t seem like he’s overwhelmed by the playbook, which is another positive thing, but at the same time, I feel like with our defense, now, it’s more so geared to be able to get younger guys on the field faster. Guys who have that elite level of athletic ability and I feel like he’s definitely a guy who’s going to have a lot of success in this defense.”
Not surprisingly, Watt has reportedly been receiving a lot of first-team reps at right outside linebacker so far during the team’s OTA practices due to the fact that veteran James Harrison usually spends most of the sessions in full sweats in an effort to slowly build up his physical readiness for the long regular season. Besides, Harrison doesn’t need the reps right now and Watt certainly does and he recently spoke about that very topic during his Friday interview on the Jim Rome Show.
“I think a lot of things transfer over from college as far as schematics, but a lot of the language and terminology are different for me,” Watt said. “So, right now I’m just going to practice and going home and hitting the playbooks really hard and trying to get as much information as possible because the more I know, the faster I can play and the quicker I can prove to the coaches that I can be out there and be a contributor for this team. So, it’s definitely a thicker playbook, but at the same time, just getting more and more reps makes it easier.”
While Watt is surely to start relieving Harrison on the field sooner rather than later during his rookie season, the old veteran and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is almost guaranteed to begin the 2017 regular season as the starter on the right side of the Steelers defense and hopefully pick up where he left off last year.
The Steelers know that they must do a better job of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2017 and with Watt now in the fold combined with Harrison and hopefully an even more improved player on the left side in fellow outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who missed the first half of the 2016 regular season after needing groin surgery, hopefully they can accomplish that goal.
As for Watt, specifically, he appears to be happy with how he’s catching on so far with two weeks’ worth of OTA practices now behind him.
“I think for the most part it’s been everything that I expected, but just on a higher level,” Watt said Friday during his interview. “Obviously, you always hear about how it’s faster – bigger guys, stronger guys – but I think it’s been great that I’ve been thrown into the deep ends a little bit, or whatever you want to call it. But just to get the grasp of the whole defense, to have those veterans in there and to be thrown right in there and get the gist of the game and get the calls, I think it’s helped me a lot.”