The Pittsburgh Steelers spent all spring sounding pretty serious about their plans of flipping their outside linebackers, putting Bud Dupree on the right side after spending his first three seasons on the left, and taking T.J. Watt off of his right-side post where he had success as a rookie, placing him back on the left where he played in college.
Things can change, of course. They could open training camp back in their usual positions. Or they could gradually find that they’re not finding the same success at their new positions and end up switching back. Or this could be the beginning of a legitimate and permanent change.
Dupree has received the bulk of the attention when it comes to this move being made, particularly after defensive coordinator Keith Butler said he might not be as “useless” rushing the quarterback from the right side, but this is really as much about Watt as well.
“T.J. will be a little bit more disciplined in terms of how he is trying to contain the quarterback and constrict the pocket around him”, Butler said of the second-year player, who recorded seven sacks during his rookie season.
One area in which Watt himself thinks he will benefit is in coverage. More often than not over the past decade and a half or so, the Steelers have generally dropped their left outside linebacker into coverage more than their right outside linebacker.
The plan going into the 2017 season was for Dupree to be the coverage player. He even talked about playing that role back in the spring last year. But after Watt proved himself and earned a starting job, and found success dropping—he recorded an interception in his first game—it became clear that he was the one better-suited to the task.
And he thinks the left side gives him better looks, better chances. “I’m presented more opportunities to bat the ball down when I’m on the left side”, he said. Even in this [offseason camp], I’ve been able to knock down more passes than usual”.
But Watt also believes he can be more effective as a rusher from the opposite side as well, saying they he has more “pitches [he] can throw” there. “I’m more right-hand dominant”, he said. “I can have a better dip and a better stab”.
Arguably the highlight of his young career actually came from the left side. In the waning moments of the Steelers’ late-season victory over the Baltimore Ravens—a 39-38 affair—, Watt came off the left edge to chase down Joe Flacco, stripping the ball out and knocking it out of bounds, which triggered a 10-second runoff that ended the game.