I think it goes without saying that the Pittsburgh Steelers used a first-round pick on outside linebacker T.J. Watt in 2017 thinking that he could be a star. Now the defense needs him to be that star, especially following the season-ending injury to Stephon Tuitt. Yet Tuitt’s loss will affect him most directly, as they play on the same side of the ball.
Meanwhile, Watt himself is dealing with an abdominal injury that has him slowing his way back into the fold during practice this week. While it looks like he’s trending toward playing, there’s no guarantee that he does, or that he won’t be limited.
Asked if he expected him to play, Keith Butler told reporters yesterday, “I hope so. We haven’t had any pads yet”, this coming via a transcript from the team’s media department.
“It is usually a pretty quick healer for the most part”, he said of the abdominal injury, recalling one of his own that he had. “But you are still wrestling with 320-pound men and that is still a significant injury to move around with it, especially if it is supposed to be a muscle in between the rib. It is not a fun injury. Knowing him, he is going to want to play against this team”.
He only came out of the team’s last game against the Los Angeles Chargers very late, really only the last couple-play drive that finished with a game-ending interception. Prior to that time, he racked up three tackles and four quarterback hits, along with a pass defensed.
On the season, now in year three, Watt currently has 20 tackles with four sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, an interception, and four passes defensed. He has six tackles that have resulted in lost yardage, plus 14 hits on the quarterback.
Butler was asked to assess the young edge defender’s play thus far. “I think he has done pretty good”, he offered. “He is going to get better. The more and more he plays, he is going to get better”.
“Not only that, but the people around him know what to expect from him”, he went on. “That is the truth of the whole defense. You learn what to expect from each other and being where you are supposed to be and when you are supposed to be there and playing good team defense. As long as we do that, I think we will get better”.
It goes without saying that Watt has been an integral part in this unit gradually playing better one a week to week basis, and really in is improvement over the course of the past two and a half years. He is just a half-sack ahead of Cameron Heyward with 24 for the most since he was drafted, but he’s also a stout run defender and is comfortable in coverage.