Football fans always love to talk about position switches for players. Even when there’s no reason to, because the player in question is doing perfectly fine where they are. Position switches do work out sometimes, and generally, the earlier it happens, the more likely that is. One position switch that really seemed to benefit a player was T.J. Watt’s moving from the right side of the defense to the left side.
The two-year veteran Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker played in and started 15 games on the right side during his rookie season in 2017, recording seven sacks for his effort. In the offseason, the coaching staff made the move, flipping himself and Bud Dupree to the opposite side. He put up 13 sacks and made the Pro Bowl this past season.
“I was all for it”, he told the team’s website about the move, a year later. “I thought I would be a better football player from the left side. I just overall felt I would be a more comfortable player and I can use my eyes and hands to see into the backfield more and just be more aware of what is happening”.
“The left side is definitely home for me”, he added.
The Steelers reportedly wanted to move Watt to the right side already during the 2017 season, but decided to wait before doing that so that they could get it in motion during the offseason rather than in the middle of the year. Watt was just a rookie, and was already playing more than they anticipated when they drafted him, so they didn’t want to throw more on his plate.
“Overall it was way more comfortable. If I go over to the right side now for a rep or two, it feels weird”, he said. “I felt like I couldn’t see through the left tackle to the quarterback to see what was happening. On the left side I felt more comfortable. I could see the quarterback’s arm motion. I could get up and affect more passes, even though I didn’t bat down nearly as many passes as I wanted to”.
If only the move had been as effective for Dupree as it had been for Watt. It’s no longer uncommon, however, for a team’s dominant pass rusher to come off the left side, nor is it such a rarity for the offense’s right tackle to be equally as talented as their left tackle.
It was really during the second half of the 2018 season that Watt began to rapidly develop as a pass rusher, something that he talked about himself. It didn’t necessarily bear out in the sack total, but his win rate against the right tackle and the amount of pressures he recorded—and thus plays that he affected—improved.
This offseason, he’ll be looking to build from that momentum as he heads into his third year, where I’m sure he’ll be shooting to make the All-Pro list after reaching the Pro Bowl. Not necessarily for the individual accolades, but because it will mean that he is doing the best he can to help his team win.