Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt hasn’t worked in team drills since the start of training camp this year, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler indicated a few days ago that that is because the former first-round draft pick out of Wisconsin is waiting on his contract extension to hopefully be finalized. On Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about Watt and his situation, and specifically if he viewed it as being unique in any sort of way. Tomlin did not waste any time getting his response out to that question.
“Not unique at all, really,” Tomlin said. “You know, that negotiation process is going to run its course. Some run their courses faster than others. If I remember correctly, Cam Heyward had less than a hundred percent participation when he was in a similar circumstance a short time ago. Again, like I say, I like to focus my energies on the guys that are working, and I’m less concerned about the guys that aren’t, whether it’s contractually-related or injury-related.
“At this time of the year, man, I’m all eyes on the guys that are working, and one man’s misfortune or inconvenience is an opportunity for another. We’ve got plenty of days ahead, particularly in circumstances where guys are veterans, and they know what they’re doing. Oftentimes you’re thinning the herd and you’re getting more of exposure to others.”
With Watt pretty much being limited to just conditioning type drills so far during training camp, Tomlin said the team has gotten the opportunity to get a closer look at newcomer veteran outside linebacker Melvin Ingram in practices.
“I’m excited about the exposure I’ve been able to get with Melvin Ingram, for instance, because he’s [Watt] not been participating,” Tomlin said on Tuesday. “And Melvin’s had an opportunity to work with the first group and really gain cohesion with some of those guys. That’s where I focus my energies.”
As for what all Watt is doing right now on the side, Tomlin made it clear on Tuesday that he’s fine with the process.
“The business is going to run its course,” Tomlin said of Watt’s contract situation. “He’s highly conditioned. Our strength staff is working with him. He’s getting in good workdays. The process is running its course. In the meanwhile, man, I’m focused on the guys that are working and their level of productivity and what type of days they’ve been having.”
Tomlin was later asked during his press conference if Watt’s contract situation were to last all the way up to Week 1 before its finalized if he feels the outside linebacker is a player that can just step right in right away after essentially missing all of training camp and the preseason, should that ultimately be what happens.
“I’m not into the hypotheticals,” Tomlin said. “You know, we’ll deal with today and then we’ll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow. Man, we can talk all day about hypotheticals relative to that issue and others.”
Tomlin was also asked to reveal the process of the decision being made that Watt would not practice fully until his contract situation got finalized. In short, he was essentially asked if Watt came to the team to ask that he not practice fully until he got an extension signed.
“I’m not going to peel back the curtain in regards to that,” Tomlin said. “It’s unnecessary and all it does is add to the brush fire and we’re just gonna focus on the ball.”
The Steelers will play their second preseason game of 2021 Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, and with that contest now being just a few days away, it’s safe to assume that Watt will not be participating in it. Ingram, on the other hand, might make his Steelers debut against the Eagles Thursday night after sitting out the Hall of Fame Game. Before Thursday night’s game, however, Ingram can expect some extra attention during the team’s Tuesday training camp practice.
“It’s funny, I challenged Melvin Ingram this morning in a team setting,” Tomlin said. “We’re coming after Melvin Ingram today with tackle over, out in that space with some big tight ends like Zach Gentry. Melvin’s a run game bully. So, we want to get to know him a little bit today.”