It should come as no surprise that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie first-round draft pick, outside linebacker T.J. Watt, received quite a bit of attention for his debut performance in the preseason opener against the Giants last week.
That would have happened no matter how he performed. He was a first-round pick, after all, and at an attention-getting position. With the amount of snaps he played, no matter what he did, it would have been newsworthy.
But fortunately, he did well, and yet the two sacks that he recorded were not all that remarkable. They merely showed that he will be a player who knows how to take advantage of opportunities when given them. Which is a good thing, but it only tells us so much about is abilities. So I wanted to take a look at some other plays.
Take the Giants’ third-down play in the red zone at the start of the second quarter, for example. New York was facing a third and 12. Watt was lined up on the left side, and did an excellent job of dipping under the outside shoulder of the right tackle to get pressure. He finished up the play with a quarterback hit. While his opponent here was an undrafted rookie, the move was good.
Later in the game, in the third quarter, still working from the left side, the rookie did well not to bite on play action, pressuring the quarterback to get the play off quickly. He did bite on a play-action bootleg earlier in the game, so he showed that he can adjust.
Five minutes into the fourth quarter, the Giants left Watt unblocked, and he showed impressive closing speed to get pressure on the deep-dropping quarterback. The outside linebacker had excellent timing elevating to bat the ball down.
About midway through the quarter, on the final play of the drive, Watt came off the edge against the run on a fourth and two play. He could not finish the play—Mike Hilton did—and obviously you want to see that, but he did get a piece of the runner. Next time he needs to close harder and finish.
Toward the end of the game, the Steelers were in their 4-3 over front, a play I wanted to get a look at from the rookie. The most relevant example unfortunately came so late in the game, but with Watt basically serving as the strongside linebacker, he and JaCorey Shepherd finished off a tackle for six yards on a short reception on second and 10.
I wanted to show Watt in this game doing different things, and I think I did that. His understanding of assignments is pretty advanced for a rookie especially one fairly new to his position, but there is still plenty of polishing left to do in his game. Still, it’s hard not to be pleased with his start. The Steelers certainly are.