Steelers News

Teryl Austin: ‘I Think We’re Close’ To Finding Pass-Rush Answers In T.J. Watt’s Absence, Would Rather Not Have To

Comparing the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive statistics from the first game of the season to the two that followed can be interpreted in many ways, but the one most will talk about is the illustration of the impact that T.J. Watt has. Sometimes the best way to make that clear is to get a good look at what it’s like without him.

The Steelers are hoping that they only have to experience life without Watt on the field for two more games, the required amount of time he must still miss due to the Reserve/Injured List rules, though there’s no guarantee he will be back that soon. Either way, that’s at least two more games for which they have to come up with answers about how to work without him.

“I think we’re close; I’d like it better if I didn’t have to find that answer, but we’re continuing to work and continuing to move”, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told reporters yesterday, via transcript, about finding answers absent Watt.

The Steelers traded for veteran Malik Reed just before the start of the regular season in order to shore up the depth at outside linebacker. They also acquired Jamir Jones off of waivers around the same time, who was on the opening day 53-man roster in 2021.

They’ve since added David Anenih, a rookie college free agent, signed off the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad, though he has yet to dress, as the team has been elevating Delontae Scott off of the practice squad. Scott has one more game of elevation eligibility remaining, but perhaps the coaches will be confident in Anenih’s readiness this week anyway.

“We have some guys that are getting opportunities here and I think we’re a little bit closer in that regard”, Austin said of his group at outside linebacker. “But again, that all will show out on Sundays. I can stand here and say, ‘Hey, yeah, I think we’ve got the answer’, but until that happens on Sunday, I’d be lying to you”.

The Steelers haven’t been relying exclusively on the outside linebacker position to fill Watt’s shoes. They’ve also increased the usage of their 3-3-5 nickel package in the past two games, which keeps three down linemen on the field.

Rookie third-round pick DeMarvin Leal has primarily served in that role, which has allowed him to play nearly 50 snaps thus far this season, and sometimes they even have him standing up in a two-point stance.

If there is any silver lining, it is perhaps the fact that they have been able to get a good look at this 3-3-5 alignment, and it’s provided them the opportunity to get their rookie defensive lineman some work he might not otherwise have gotten. That should serve them well later on in the season.

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