The Pittsburgh Steelers spent their first-round draft pick this year on outside linebacker T.J. Watt and by the sound of things, he’s going to play quite a bit during his rookie season and right from the get-go.
“We have two guys who are first-rounders, we drafted them for this,” said Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter about Watt and 2015 first round draft pick, Bud Dupree, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Now you have to turn them loose and let them play.”
So, what does this mean for veteran outside linebacker James Harrison? How does relief pitcher sound?
“His role is his role,” Porter said of Harrison, who is now 39 years of age. “He’s a relief pitcher. Until we need you, the young guys are going to play. You’re a good safety net to have; if somebody’s not getting the job done, we happen to know we have a wily veteran that we can put into the game. But to be honest going in, we have two young first-rounders who shouldn’t be tired. And when they do get tired, we’ll make the adjustments we need to.”
While Watt impressed on the stat sheet Friday night in his preseason debut against the New York Giants, the most impressive aspect of his performance is the fact he proved to be a highly-conditioned athlete. Due to injuries at the outside linebacker position, Watt was forced to play a team-high 63 defensive snaps Friday night in addition to another 10 snaps on special teams.
Watt registered two sacks Friday night and as head coach Mike Tomlin pointed out after the game, they might be the easiest ones he has as a professional. With that said, Watt showed a very consistent motor throughout the game and could be seen chasing after the football on several plays.
Unless Porter is just blowing smoke like he did last time in regard to Harrison, there’s a good chance that Watt will play a lot more snaps than the veteran does in the team’s regular season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
“Now it’ll be 48 [Dupree] and 90 [Watt], and they’ll just play until they’re tired,” Porter said, per Bouchette. “And when they get tired, somebody will come and relieve them. But it won’t be ‘This is your series and this is the next one’s series.’ We don’t have to do that.”
While Porter expects Harrison to fight hard to get on the field, it sounds like the plan to play Watt and Dupree early and often is set in stone right now.
“I know the old guy [Harrison] wants to play but at the same time it’s hard to get in there if those guys are doing the job,” Porter said. “If they’re doing their job and they’re playing at a high level, the understanding is understood. You don’t have to explain anything that you can see right there on tape.”