The Pittsburgh Steelers released their first regular season depth chart of 2017 on Tuesday and it includes rookie first-round draft pick T.J. Watt now being listed as the team’s starting right outside linebacker and ahead of veteran James Harrison. Because of that recent jump, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked during his Tuesday press conference to explain what he saw out of Watt during training camp and the preseason that led to him now being listed as a starter.
“He’s been there,” Tomlin said. “He’s been in that position really since day-zero. You don’t like at anoint people, you like to watch them earn it. We didn’t put it on paper, but it won’t be like he’s in a new position when he gets here on Wednesday. It will be the same spot in the huddle that he was in yesterday.”
In short, Watt is now expected to start Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and if that ultimately happens, it will mark the first time in a long, long time that a Steelers rookie outside linebacker has opened a regular season as a starter. In fact, I’m having a hard time remembering when the last time is that happened.
Several weeks ago, Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter indicated that the plan was to start Watt right away and use Harrison as a “relief pitcher” and it looks like that might ultimately happen. Watt had a relatively even preseason showing that started with him registering two sacks against the New York Giants. Over the course of the teams four exhibition games, the Wisconsin product registered 10 total defensive tackles and one pass defensed.
Watt’s first real NFL game action will include a huge test for him as he figures to be matched up against Browns left tackle Joe Thomas quite a bit on Sunday. Thomas is arguably still the league’s best left tackle so it will be fun to watch him and Watt battle Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
Coach Tomlin previews Sunday's regular season opener in Cleveland, discusses Le'Veon Bell and more. pic.twitter.com/xGIQBHxpbD
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 5, 2017