Leaders are often born, not molded, but they come in all forms. There are the loud ones, the Ray Lewis types. And then there are the quiet ones, whose actions speak louder. When they speak, everyone listens. T.J. Watt is clearly in that latter camp. And talking with reporters following Friday’s practice, Mike Tomlin described the way Watt leads.
“You guys know T.J.,” Tomlin said via a team transcript. “He doesn’t talk a lot, but his words carry weight because of what he’s doing and capable of doing.”
Watt has taken on a bigger leadership role as he becomes a veteran of the league, not to mention one of its best players. He’s now entering his fifth year and outside of offseason free agents Miles Killebrew (a safety/linebacker hybrid) and Melvin Ingram, Watt is the oldest linebacker in the entire Steelers’ room. Now that Vince Williams has retired, by tenure, he’s easily been around the longest. Here are the most veteran LBs in the Steelers’ room.
T.J. Watt: 5 seasons
Marcus Allen: 4 seasons (two in the LB room)
Robert Spillane: 3 seasons
Devin Bush: 3 seasons
Ulysees Gilbert III: 3 seasons
And from a playing time perspective with the team, he’s head and shoulders above the rest. Here’s how that stacks up.
Watt: 3,463 career defensive snaps
All Other Steelers LBs: 1,819 career defensive snaps
Ingram, of course, is a veteran at 32 years old, but he’s brand new to the team signed days before camp. With Bud Dupree gone and Williams retired, there’s more pressure than ever on Watt to step up off the field.
“I think T.J.’s going to be T.J. And we appreciate that. He’s not a vocal guy. That’s not his style. We’ve got plenty of leadership, we don’t have a void in that area, and obviously, he’s one of them. He’s just not a “rah rah” type.”
The Steelers still have core leaders on the defense like Cam Heyward and Joe Haden. And Watt’s leadership has been valuable, sharing things he picked up in film study with the rest of the group. On the surface, that might not seem like leadership. But it’s incredibly valuable. Watt’s making himself better and making all the guys around him better, too. And though there are still leaders on the team, there’s also been a void with the loss of guys like Williams and on offense, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Alejandro Villanueva.
One year from now, the team could also be without Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Haden. And Watt will have to step up even more as a quiet leader of the team.