Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree registered a combined 18.5 sacks last season with the former being credited for 13 of those, which was a team-high. Watt, who is now in his third season in the NFL, really seems to be at home now in the Steelers defense and ready to take yet another big step in his development during the 2019 regular season. After Wednesday’s OTA practice, the team’s fifth of the offseason, Watt talked about what he believes is the next step for him this coming season and what his goals are.
“More splash, more plays,” Watt said, according to steelers.com. “I think I left a lot of plays out there [on the field]. And I feel like I definitely got into a rhythm towards the end of the season and felt more comfortable in all aspects of the game. Not just like pass rush, run defense stuff, but also just try to build that leadership role and try to be a guy that some of the younger guys can look up to and just be a tone setter in general for the defense and the whole team.”
On the heels of that answer, Watt was asked what it is he feels he improved most on from his first to second season and what specific areas of his game he hopes to improve in 2019, his third season in the NFL.
“Pass rush, Watt said. “I mean, I am way more comfortable on the left side, first of all, and this is my first true year on the left side after a year under my belt. So, I feel like I’ll have a lot more moves for all you guys to see this year, hopefully. And hopefully just create more splash in run downs, too. I feel like I can definitely improve on run defense, always.”
Last season, Watt was credited with 40 total run tackles and only inside linebacker Vince Williams registered more. In fact, Pro Football Focus graded out Watt’s 2018 play against the run at 83.3, and only defensive end Stephon Tuitt graded out better for the Steelers.
As far as Watt’s pass rushing ability goes and possible improvement in that area in 2019, he’ll obviously need to work more on varying up his moves on counters. He was asked on Wednesday if he feels it’s more important for him to have a signature move or better to have a whole array of non-signature ones.
“I mean, everyone’s different,” Watt said. “Some guys have signature moves, some guys have a whole bunch of moves. I think it just depends on who you are and what moves are hitting at certain times. And if it’s your signature move and it’s not working, you gotta be able to have the strength to not use it all the time.”
As for Dupree, who will once again be expected to play opposite Watt on the right side of the Steelers defense in 2019 after making the switch from the left side a year ago, a lot more will be expected out of him this upcoming season after having his fifth-year option worth just over $9 million picked up by the Steelers last offseason. While Dupree only registered 5.5 sacks last season, he feels that number could have easily been a lot higher had he just finished more plays.
“I had a big opportunity last year to be in the conversation and I didn’t close the plays,” Dupree said Wednesday, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m always in position. The plays are always there; it’s on me to finish those plays and easily have double-digit sacks. I’m trying to go out and reboot and finish those plays this season.”
Dupree went on to name several instances to Dulac of him failing to get sacks last year.
“I had four holding calls [against me] that would have been clear strip sacks,” Dupree recalled to Dulac per his report. “I also missed two or three [sacks] where I had my hands on the quarterback. So, total that up, that’s seven with the six I had, that’s easily double digits right there.”
Watt also talked Wednesday about the art of the strip sack and the ultimate recovery of the football as the Steelers defense was able to get the football out of the hands of opposing quarterbacks quite a fwew times last season only to have said opposing offense ultimately recover the football most of the time.
“Yeah, I think the strip sack is definitely something that I always focus on,” Watt said. “I think just being aware of where the quarterback’s holding the ball. I’m a front side pass rusher when it’s a right hand quarterback so a lot of times they have the ball in tight. Just always having your eye on the football. And then, obviously, the football’s a weird shape. When it’s on the ground, it’s definitely hard to get to. I mean, we’re trying to get the ball, it’s sometimes it just doesn’t bounce your way.”
Watt also said during his Wednesday media session that he and Dupree are both pushing each other hard this offseason and especially during certain drills in practice.
“Yeah, I think we both understand that we’re really good athletes at that we both look up to each other,” Watt said. “And it’s good to have that kind of star power when I go up against Bud because Bud as a heck of an athlete and he can do some things that I can’t do and I can do some things that he can’t do. So, we’re definitely always pushing each other in every aspect of the game.”
Watt was then immediately asked to name the things that Dupree does better than he does.
“Have you seen Bud’s legs? I mean, you’ve seen my legs, Bud’s legs are like tree trunks,” Watt said. “He can accelerate so fast. His power is there and he can drop in coverage and just cover so much ground in like one or two steps. It’s like Giannis [Antetokounmpo] in basketball. It’s crazy.”
What will be real crazy for the Steelers, and in a good way, is if Watt and Dupree can both achieve double-digit sacks in 2019. The last time the Steelers had two defensive players register double-digit sacks in a regular season was in 2010 when outside linebacker James Harrison and LaMarr Woddley accomplished the feat with 10.5 and 10 sacks, respectively. The Steelers also went to the Super Bowl that season.