T.J. Watt plays a lot of football. Even last season when he was held out of the finale, the Pittsburgh Steelers edge defender logged 855 defensive snaps, 83 percent of the team’s total. He hit 86 and 87 percent in his previous two seasons on top of that, logging over 900 snaps.
That’s a lot of ball for a position that is going full-speed against linemen bigger than they are. And that’s the reason that we always have the discussion about how to get players like Watt some time on the sidelines. It’s a topic on his mind as well, he admitted yesterday.
“It’s something that I always look at early in a season, something that I am well aware of as the season progresses as well”, he told reporters during mandatory minicamp, “but I always want to be out there as much as I possibly can”.
That desire to be on the field, however, has to be balanced against what is best for the team, and a worn-out or beat-up star pass rusher might not be the best answer at every moment if you have a competent rotational player behind him.
“It’s also about managing my play and how efficient I am when I’m out there. I don’t want to be out there if I’m completely gassed”, he said. “But that’s also what we do in training camp here, is seeing what kind of depth we have behind us, and if we trust the guys behind us, which we always do, come the season”.
With Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi gone from last season, their top two reserve edge defenders are shaping up to be Cassius Marsh and Quincy Roche, two players about whom they still have a lot to learn. The latter is a sixth-round rookie, while Marsh is a veteran journeyman whom they only acquired late last season, and who spent a week in the COVID-19 protocol.
Alex Highsmith is ascending into the starting lineup on the other side, so they need to find out what they have in Marsh and Roche, and whether or not that have to add somebody else to the room just so they can have someone they feel putting on the field to let Watt breathe.
“I have no problem with taking a break and letting the guy behind me go in and get some reps”, the two-time first-team All-Pro said of taking some snaps off on the sideline. “But if it’s third down and I have a little bit of gas in the tank, I’m gonna try to get that rep”.