Any group needs multiple leaders, and multiple kinds of leaders. You need the vocal and charismatic sort that can rally people. But you also need the guys who set the tone, who provide the example for the rest to follow. T.J. Watt might not necessarily be the most outspoken, but those around him know that he has been the example for the Pittsburgh Steelers since he arrived as a rookie in 2017.
With his being named the team’s MVP for the second year in a row, Minkah Fitzpatrick was asked about Watt and his character within the team, and whether or not he’s a big talker in that regard. He conceded that he’s not, saying that “he’s definitely more of a lead by example guy”, but he does just that.
“I think his personality is more leading by example. He’s a guy that does everything the right way”, Fitzpatrick said. “He’s one of the first guys in the building, one of the last to leave. Just watching film all the time, constantly preparing his body and his mind”.
That has been especially important this year in his own position group with Bud Dupree going down, which has required that others step up and fill the void. While he is having a career year on his own and stands a good chance of winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award, he is also helping to foster rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith as he steps into a starting role.
According to Fitzpatrick, the third-rounder is one of those who most follow Watt’s example, though he’s not the only one. “Guys follow, one, because he’s having success, and like I said, he’s doing it the right way. Guys like Highsmith, just following in his footsteps. I see Highsmith literally doing the same exact thing that T.J.’s doing, after practice and before practice. Just the way that he prepares as well”.
Highsmith has had to take over a starting role since Dupree tore his ACL. While he hasn’t notched a sack in his four games starting, he has accumulated 19 tackles and several quarterback hits. He had multiple key pressures in their Sunday victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
With Dupree likely to be parting in free agency, Highsmith is the presumed successor for the starting role, and he is showing positive indications of his ability to deliver. He still has room to grow, but watching how Watt does it on the other side will provide the blueprint for success.