T.J. Watt is coming off one of the best seasons by an edge defender in recent Pittsburgh Steelers history, making the first-team All-Pro list and finishing third in the Defensive Player of the Year race. He recorded 14.5 sacks to go along with eight forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and two interceptions, to help propel the defense into one of the top units in the NFL.
And as he heads into his fourth season, he finds everything changed, necessarily, thanks to a pandemic. Players have not been allowed entry to team facilities since the middle of March, so all meetings have been done virtually, and players have been on their own as far as their workouts go, for the most part.
Is this a problem for him? Well, perhaps to a degree, but not in comparison to most other players, probably, especially in terms of conditioning. There are plenty of motivated players that maintain their fitness year-round, but others won’t do that.
That’s a reality the NFL must be aware of, and something that Watt touched on a bit when he appeared on The Fan yesterday. “I really don’t think it’s going to matter much varying from team to team”, he said about the lack of in-person workouts, in the sense of affecting teams some more than others. Rather, it will be more about specific players.
“I know I’ve been working out extremely hard and just like I do every offseason, but then I know there are also some guys out there who haven’t been working out nearly as hard as they normally would”, he said. “So I think there definitely needs to be some sort of acclimation period where we’re able to get conditioned and in the right shape to play football, because like I said, some people are working extremely hard and some guys probably aren’t working as hard as they should be”.
Back in ‘the old days’, there were times when NFL players worked Summer jobs during the offseason before training camp. Training camp used to be about getting players into shape. Now athletes are expected to be conditioned year-round, something that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin harps on.
I think it’s reasonable to expect that many players will have slacked under these current conditions, though. Many players utilize team facilities to maintain their fitness under proper guidance, and of course they haven’t had that.
Training camps are set to open at the end of this month. I’m sure players all across the NFL will be failing conditioning tests if they’re conducted as if it were any other year. An acclimation period will be critical even just from a physical standpoint this offseason, something that the NFLPA has emphasized, in part during conversations about eliminating the preseason and replacing it with a ‘warm up’ phase.