The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten a much needed injection of talent and productivity at the outside linebacker position over the course of the past two years in 2017 first-round draft pick T.J. Watt, the younger brother of three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. He has recorded 20 sacks over the course of his first two seasons, including 13 last year, which was the most by a Steelers player in the better part of a decade.
His on-field success combined with his no-nonsense, confident persona have engendered himself quite well to the Steelers’ fans, who have already adopted him as one of their favorite players. It helps that most don’t expect him to be a player that ever ruffles any feathers in the locker room or with the front office.
In fact, right now he is transitioning into a leadership role, becoming more and more outspoken, and that took on another shade in his first comments during the first days of Phase One of the offseason program. And he said a lot that I think some diehard fans will enjoy.
“The most important thing”, he said yesterday, “is we have to get back to being ourselves and playing Steelers football and not caring who is on the schedule, who the other team is, and just playing our brand of football”.
Of course many will question if the Steelers have a brand of their own right now, and there really is some truth to that. The defense has actually changed a fair bit in recent years, moving away from two-gapping and relying heavily on zone coverage, for example, though obviously some staples remain.
That includes, or ostensibly will include, a prominent presence off the edges against the pass, which Watt provided last season and which he plans to continue building upon. He recorded 13 sacks last season but much of his production came in streaks. He would like to level out and be more even in 2019 and beyond.
Historically, the Steelers’ defensive identity was one of hard-hitting football with quality play off the edge, and cornerbacks who were able to occupy the receivers long enough for the likes of James Harrison, Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, and others to get home.
Recently, that identity had morphed into a group that gave up big passing plays and missed tackles, but they took strides in cleaning up both of those areas last season. This is a new era of football and the Steelers are looking to create a new brand that leads to success.
If they succeed in that task, then it’s probably a safe bet that Watt will be a key component.