2019 is a big year for Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Even though he might have made the Pro Bowl already last season—as an alternate—he knows that a further step forward is very much needed this year to get him that much closer to reaching his actual potential. Which is also something that his defense needs from him on the field.
And the team also needs him to take steps forward off the field, into a leadership role, which he appears to have already begun to do successfully. He has even called back to some of his experience at Wisconsin as he emerged in that program.
“You see that guys are starting to follow you and ask questions, how you sleep, how your diet is, how you study film”, he observed. You think, ‘wow, some guys are starting to follow in my footsteps. It’s time to take on a leadership role’. It kind of blossoms into what it is”.
That is what we are beginning to see now in Pittsburgh, particularly with their two young outside linebackers, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and rookie Sutton Smith, but it applies across the board to other positions as well. Watt has relentless work habits, which are beneficial for anybody willing to make that effort.
He emphasized his awareness that everybody “taking coaching and everything differently”, and that it’s about “being a guy that works really hard, showing through example and then talking when the time is right, not trying to overcoach and be somebody that I’m not”.
In other words, he’s not going to step out of himself in order to take on a role that is unnatural, but rather will let if evolve naturally from what he already does. Bud Dupree has already observed in Watt the natural abilities of a leader.
Meanwhile, the young outside linebacker is still bettering himself as a football player at the same time as he is seizing more responsibility over the betterment of others around him. “I feel like I haven’t totally proved myself”, he said, following a season in which he posted 13 sacks and six forced fumbles.
“But through what I have done around here, the extra work that everyone sees me put” in, he said, “I can start to get into that leadership role and have a voice on this defense”.
The Steelers have lost a few key figures within the defensive leadership recently. Ryan Shazier’s injury took him off the field in December of 2017. Both William Gay and Mike Mitchell were released in the spring of the following season.
There is Joe Haden, of course, to pair with Cameron Heyward, but Watt, and hopefully Devin Bush after a short time, can really help to form a new nucleus on defense of both stellar players and leaders, around which the rest of the unit can be built.