Steelers DC Keith Butler Concerned That OLB T.J. Watt Won’t Be In ‘Hitting Shape’ By Week 1

With the Pittsburgh Steelers set to close out their 2021 preseason schedule Friday night against the Carolina Panthers, its now all but guaranteed that outside linebacker T.J. Watt will enter Week 1 having not played a single snap in any of the team’s four exhibition contests. That bit noted, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said on Wednesday that it is a little bit concerning that the Steelers best defensive player will enter the regular season after not seeing any preseason playing time.

“I think he’ll be ready cardiovascularly [for the season],” Butler said of Watt after Wednesday’s practice, according to the team’s released transcript of the press conference. “What I mean by that is this: The only way you can dadgun get in hitting shape is you gotta to hit. You can’t do nothing else. There’s nothing else you can do. You’ve got to hit to do that. And if you don’t get the hitting in before you go in your first game, then we’ve gotta be careful of how we use you and make sure that we keep him healthy as much as we can.”

Butler went on to stress how important it is in his eyes for players to get some hitting in before playing in a regular season game.

“The biggest thing for me is the hitting shape part of it,” Butler said. “You can’t duplicate that until you get the pads on and go out and play. He hasn’t done that yet.”

Can Watt get enough hitting in in practices once he signs his lucrative contract extension in the coming days or weeks?

“Well, you’ve got to do it in practices that have pads on,” Butler said in response to a similar question about Watt. “How many times have we had pads on? We only have a certain amount of times we can have pads on according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement for the preseason.”

Butler did hint on Wednesday that perhaps Watt will be able to participate in at least one padded practice before the Steelers play the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.

“Well, we’ll see,” Butler said. “We’ll see. I think we have one practice and that’ll be it.”

Watt is expected to sign his lucrative contract extension after the Steelers’ Friday preseason finale against the Panthers takes place. After he signs that extension, he’ll obviously start taking part in the team portion of practices, which is something he didn’t do at all during the training camp sessions art Heinz Field.

Assuming he ultimately signs his contract extension in the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see if Watt winds up being limited in total plays played in the team’s Week 1 road game against the Buffalo Bills. The Steelers do have fellow outside linebackers Melvin Ingram and Alex Highsmith ready to absorb a lot of playing time come Week 1 so maybe Watt can be eased into hitting shape in that first contest. We’ll see. That said, Watt probably wouldn’t be up for such a game plan that includes his snaps being limited.

“The thing that’s hard though is gauging him physically, as to where he’s at and stuff like that, if he hasn’t been hitting, which he hasn’t – he hasn’t been hitting,” Butler said.

While Butler obviously would like Watt back on the practice field as soon as yesterday, he certainly understands why the teams former first round draft pick has yet to do much of anything on the grass so far this summer

“But he’s got to do what he thinks is right for himself,” Butler said of Watt’s contract-related actions so far this summer. “That’s part of professional football, I think. We had it even when I played a long time ago.”

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