On a personal level, it’s rarely a good thing when somebody refers to your presence as “annoying”. But when it comes to being a pass-rusher in the NFL, it should most likely be taken in stride as a compliment. That is how Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has described the player that he has taken the majority of his reps against this spring: first-round rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
As Jim Wexell wrote last week, Villanueva was highly complimentary of Watt, saying that “he’s just come in here and worked hard” while not taking any plays off. “It’s annoying to go against a guy like that”, he added, “but he knows that’s one of his strengths, like his brother, relentless”.
The hope is obviously that the left tackles of the Steelers’ opponents will find Watt equally or even more annoying than does Villanueva. If he can keep up the annoyance factor against the 6’9” bookend lineman after the pads come on in Latrobe in late July, then that will really be something.
Aside from calling him annoying to go against, Villanueva also affirmed that Watt makes surprisingly few errors given his status as a rookie and his relative newness to his position in general. And not only does he have the ability to play without making mistakes, he also actually knows what he is doing and how he is supposed to do it.
“He knows how to disguise the plays. He knows his responsibilities”, the left tackle said. Adding that “he plays with a lot of confidence” and “plays very well with his hands”, Villanueva also noted that Watt “understands protections and the offensive line so he shows a lot of maturity that you don’t usually see”.
Even more noteworthy, perhaps, is the fact that he sees Watt as “a guy who’s using moves” as opposed to “just relying on athleticism. He’s a very athletic kid but he’s not relying on it. He’s really putting thought into the game, so I’ve had a lot of fun going against him for the past month”.
Regardless of how annoying it might be to do so.
Of course, there is nothing more annoying for a pass rusher than being able to get into the backfield but missing out on getting the sack. While there are ways for them to affect the play that do not get marked down on the stat sheet as a sack, others, including Bud Dupree, have talked about that innate desire to finish every play, and for a rusher, to finish a play is to get the sack.
The Steelers have been doing better in that category over the past two years overall, but there is still room for significant improvement, which is why they drafted Watt in the first round. They have had to manufacture more pressure with blitzes than they would care to do, so the thinking is that it’s time for the young man from Wisconsin to start annoying some blind-side protectors.