Fullback Derek Watt isn’t new to the NFL, but he is new to the Pittsburgh Steelers after signing a three-year free agent contract with the team back in March. Watt’s newness to the Steelers hasn’t been helped by cancellation of the annual OTAs and minicamp due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, Watt was a guest on SiriusXM NFL Radio, and he was asked how big of impact not having the usual offseason practices will be on him as he tries to settle in with a new team.
“Yeah, no question it’s an impact for sure,” Watt said. “And for someone like me, I came in as a rookie and tried to just absorb everything possible with the Chargers and I feel like I picked up the playbook pretty quickly. And I try to do the exact same thing here. Once I knew I was coming here and once we started those virtual offseasons, I was trying to be the best student I possibly could.”
“And, yeah, it’s a different learning process, no question about it, than being in person, taking something from the classroom, going right out on the field and executing it, and then being able to go back in and correct it. We were literally sitting on a computer and watching the film screen and then trying to take your own notes and you got to study on your own.”
Watt talked more about what the new virtual offseason process has been like for him and how he thinks he’ll hopefully be able to overcome the challenges that come along with it as a new member of a different team and how the younger players might not be as fortunate as him.
“So, it’s a completely different process, Watt said. “I’m going into my fifth year now. There are definitely some nuances that are different, some terminology that’s different, but I’ve just basically relied on my learning process, how I kind of take great notes and reference back to those things. And [how I] organize my notes and pay attention in those meetings. It’s really helped me throughout my entire career, but also just now.
“I feel like I’ve picked things up pretty quickly during this process, but definitely I could see it being a challenge for some of the younger guys who aren’t used to certain playbooks or just the process of how things are going to go, because it’s going to come up quickly for those guys. And once we get hitting the field and in practice, it’s going to be like, I think our coaches have kept saying we lost thousands of snaps by not having OTAs and minicamp. So, it’ll be a test to see who stayed on top of their, one; physical shape, but, two; playbook and mental conditioning in that regard.”
Watt went on to talk briefly about what it’s like for a fullback to miss those offseason practice reps this summer.
“With playing fullback, 100 percent, those reps of physically getting a rep of going and finding out who you’re blocking, hitting that person, things like that, you don’t do a ton of that in OTAs, but just doing that muscle memory, different scheme that we’re going up against on defense, things like that, is definitely a big deal and those reps are going to be missed for sure,” Watt said.
There’s been some talk the last few weeks that the NFLPA is pushing for zero 11-on-11 drills during training camp practices this year as some safeguards stemming from players not having OTAs and minicamps to get warmed up in. On Tuesday, Watt was asked if he was given a chance to vote for 11-on-11 drills due to him feeling he needs that sort of practice rep to help him get ready for the season, if he would do so.
“I mean, honestly, I’m not against 11-on-11 drills,” Watt said. “If it comes down to what’s the safest possible way for us to play and practice, and if that’s not 11-on-11, then it’s not. There’re ways. I mean, we’ve done half-line in the past where you’ve got six guys doing it, or, however. I mean, I’m not trying to line up and just do one-on-one, run at each other, and just hit just to hit, but you got to have some sort of purpose to the drill.
“So, whether it’s half-line or whether if it ends up being 11-on-11, great. But there’s other ways to get that leverage, get that hitting, those reps in, without lining up in a full offense. But definitely there’s no simulating it. 11-on-11 is obviously the best way to do it. It’s as game-like as you can get, but there are other ways to do it. We’ve done it in the past and I think we’ll find out the best option.”
Watt was also asked the million-dollar questions on Monday about if he thinks everything will start on time, what kind of preseason schedule there’ll be and if the NFL will be able to stay on course for the entire 2020 season.
“I mean, I obviously have no insider information,” Watt said. “I’m just going based off of what I’ve been told, and it’ll be, as far as I know, I’m going to be ready to go. I think, what is it, July 27th or 28th? And if it gets extended past that, then I’ll stay ready. And I think a big thing that’s going to be a factor is they’re going to see how these other leagues are progressing and handling things.
“And it’ll just be interesting to see how things progress with us. And if it does happen as planned, then it’s going to be interesting to see how guys have been able to prepare and who’s been staying after their craft and working out. And it’s going to be a learning curve for sure for everybody to get back and jump into things after not having OTAs and all that stuff.”