Training camp is always a long process, but sometimes there are simply things that it doesn’t take long to get a feel for. For Jeremy Fowler, the ESPN writer has a feeling in the early stages of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that is this: rookie first-round draft pick T.J. Watt is going to be hard to keep off the field.
For somebody who is not projected to be a starter, that is not necessarily a statement that you hear all the time. But the outside linebacker has been seriously impressing his coaches, his teammates, and everybody else who has watched him all through the spring and into the first couple of days of padded practices.
While he may have had his hands full with “Big Al” over at left tackle, Watt has shown that his nose has been in the play book and that he is developing an arsenal of pass-rushing moves that does include a speed rush.
“The first-round pass-rusher was a fast learner in the spring”, Fowler writes, “with a quick first step and good discipline in the defense. If he progresses as the Steelers hope he will, the team has the option to rest Harrison early in the season and get Watt valuable snaps alongside Dupree”.
Harrison is, of course, James Harrison, the 39-year-old former Defensive Player of the Year, who regained his starting position by the end of last season. Previously rotating with Jarvis Jones, who was getting the lion’s share of snaps, the veteran was hardly even coming off the field by the time the playoffs arrived.
And Dupree would be referring to Bud Dupree, the other former first-round draft pick at the outside linebacker position that is still on the roster. The third-year pass-rusher is expected to have a big breakout year this season after showing promise at the end of last season, returning from sports hernia surgery that sidelined him for most of the year.
While Harrison may be the starter, the plan has always been that he will get his rest, and even he knows that he needs his rest. He told reporters that he is comfortable playing 45 to 55 snaps per game, but even that is a light workload for the number of snaps that the defense has faced in an average game in recent years.
The coaching staff has also been testing Watt to see how many things they can throw at him. They already have him working in dropping into dynamic coverages and even flipping sides with Dupree. He has of course been afforded the opportunity to work with the first-team defense while Harrison is being held out.