T.J. Watt was an every-down player his rookie year, hitting the starting lineup right away and never looking back. That’s why it was kinda insane for the team to ask him to play extensively on special teams. He saw 149 snaps, mostly running down punts, which meant having to sprint 40 yards and then play on defense immediately after.
This year, it sounds like they’re wising up and removing him from most of that work. That’s what Joey Porter told PennLive’s Jacob Klinger earlier this week.
“Porter went on to say Watt will have less of a special teams role, which he expected would help keep him fresh on defense.”
Those 149 snaps ranked 8th on the team, more than guys like Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday, and Coty Sensabaugh, three exclusive/primary special teamers. Compare that to the only 95 snaps Bud Dupree logged his rookie season.
Watt was effective there but it was an unnecessary load for a guy whose main job was to get after the QB. It was the apparent downside to a rookie so well-conditioned, the Steelers feeling comfortable by playing him so often.
Without James Harrison, who didn’t have any special teams value, the Steelers will have an extra option to replace Watt. Likely with whoever ends up as the #4 OLB, preferably Keion Adams, to play the left tackle spot on punt coverage. There will also be plenty of candidates at inside linebacker whether that’s L.J. Fort or UDFA Matthew Thomas.
Pittsburgh loaded up on special team standouts during free agency and the draft. Nat Berhe should comfortably fill Robert Golden’s shoes as the upback on punts while Marcus Allen profiles as a four-phase special teamer, though unlikely to take Watt’s specific spot on the punt team.