The 2018 season is a crucial one for T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. The organization has essentially spent the past five years searching for their successors to either James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley, and to date, they have frankly struggled to replace either one.
Watt, though, is coming off a strong rookie season in which he recorded seven sacks—the second-most by a rookie in team history—along with an interception, a forced fumble, and a good number of passes defensed. Year two should be very telling in determining if he can truly be that sort of difference-maker they are hoping he is.
You cant count himself among those who are optimistic about it. It’s his goal heading into his second season, and he is seeing the results. “Last year was such an ‘I need to know what I’m doing so I can show who I am as a player’ type of season for me”, he said yesterday on SiriusXM Radio.
“If you’re out there and you’re thinking about what your assignment is then you’re not going to be able to show who your true personality is as a playmaker. So this year, this time around, it’s completely different for me”, Watt continued.
“I’m so comfortable with the defense, I’m so comfortable with the terminology, with the guys that I’m playing with, so now I’m just flying around having fun and making plays, and it’s night and day from last year this time”.
The Steelers made Watt—the younger brother of three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt—the 30th-overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft after deciding to move on from Jarvis Jones, another first-round outside linebacker from 2013 who did not work out.
The plan from the get-go was not to throw him immediately into the starting lineup, but he had such a stellar and consistent offseason that he worked his way into that role. Harrison likely would have remained the starter if the rookie had not proven he was capable of handling the job.
And he earned it, recording two sacks and an interception in the season opener. He followed it up by delivering one of the biggest plays of the year, a crucial strip-sack—from the left side—of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco that sealed a victory. Harrison was on the field for that same play.
With Harrison now retired, the torch has well and fully been passed. It’s up to Watt to light the way for the future of the outside linebacker position in Pittsburgh, but he has never at any point backed down from the pressure of performing or living up to a legacy, whether organizational or familial. He wants to be one of the greats, and knows that pressure comes hand-in-hand with greatness.
“We want to first and foremost smash the run and get the run contained and make teams pass. That will help me and Bud a lot because Bud and I want to be staples for this defense. We want to be the big splash-play makers, get the sack-fumbles do all the big plays, but we can’t do all that if we don’t stop the run.