Due to his early successes, it might be easy to lose sight of the fact that Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt, this year perhaps one of the frontrunners to win the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Award, is in just his third season. And though he was not the youngest of rookies, he was among the most inexperienced.
He has come a long way in a relatively short period of times. In just the past two seasons, he has recorded 27 sacks and forced 13 fumbles. Nobody in team history has ever put up that many sacks in a two-season stretch, though Kevin Green came up a half-sack shy of the mark (and he did do it prior to ever signing with the Steelers).
After winning the team’s MVP Award, defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked about his star player’s progression. “He is still learning but he has learned a lot”, he said. “What T.J. does well, probably as good as anyone else, he prepares himself. He works at preparing himself”.
That may be one thing about the Wisconsin product that some are less aware of than others. While he is supremely athletically and physically gifted, so much of his success is garnered from the work that he puts in on the film and in putting together a pass-rusher repertoire, understanding opponent tendencies, and things along that line.
“He is out here first every day in terms of—you all will come out here and look at the field and he is out there playing football with the ball like a little kid”, he said. “He loves it. He loves the game. He works at it and by him working at it he is really good physically and mentally. I think he still has room to grow, but he’s getting there”.
With one game remaining in his third season, Watt has recorded 170 tackles, including 36 for a loss, with 34 sacks,, 68 quarterback hits, 14 forced fumbles, four recoveries, three interceptions, and 17 passes defensed. About the only things he hasn’t yet done are score a touchdown and record a safety, though he’s almost done the latter a time or two.
Put simply, Watt is the best thing to happen to the Steelers’ defense since James Harrison’s emergence. Troy Polamalu had already been making the All-Pro List by then. But he has surpassed what the likes of Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley have brought to the table already, and there is every reason to believe that he can at least maintain this quality of play in the future.