Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt was too busy focused on himself and improving his own game to have much time to worry about exterior things like growing into a leadership role. To hear him tell it, his rookie season was for learning, his second season for growing. This year, while he still considers himself an improving player, he has that luxury now to think about other things, like being a voice and an example to the other players on the roster.
“My rookie year I was really big on staying quiet and just working. My second year trying to prove myself, and I feel like I still haven’t fully proven myself”, Watt told reporters. “I feel like through what I have done around here, everyone sees the work I do and I can get in a leadership role and have a voice on this defense”.
He was a day-one starter on defense, the first defensive player to begin and end a season in that role without interruption for the Steelers since Kendrell Bell. He finished that year with seven sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. Last year, he upped the ante, recording 13 sacks and six forced fumbles, most of which came on strip sacks. That led to his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Now that he has established himself as a player, even though he very much intends to continue to get better and better, Watt sees a bigger role for himself within the team, a void in the leadership that he can fill from the edge defender position.
He talked about wanting to “be a tone setter for the defense and the whole team”. He is one of those players who has no trouble ‘reaching across the aisle’ and fraternizing with offensive players, so I could certainly see him becoming one of the faces of the franchises in a short amount of time the way J.J. Watt has.
“The biggest thing about being a leader is knowing who you are talking to at all times”, he told reporters, which is perhaps something he learned from his older brother. “Different guys take leadership differently. Being a guy that works hard, showing through example, then talking when the time is right. Not trying to over coach and be somebody I am not”.
The Steelers really are in need of more of a leadership presence on the defensive side of the ball, as they don’t have much behind Cameron Heyward since Ryan Shazier was injured. Many of the other starters are still young, and less accomplished than Watt. Devin Bush is probably somebody who will start to fill that void on an accelerated curve as well.