The Pittsburgh Steelers started their 2023 OTA sessions on Tuesday and while we don’t know all the players who weren’t present for the first of 10 voluntary practices, we do know that outside linebacker T.J. Watt wasn’t in attendance for whatever reason. After the Tuesday OTA practice ended, fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith was asked about Watt’s absence and how he’s treating that as being an opportunity to be more of a team leader.
“Yeah, just right now just coaching up the young guys that are here,” Highsmith said on Tuesday via SteelersLive. “I think we’ve got a solid group of young guys that came in with Nick [Herbig] and David [Perales] at our position and stuff. And so, I’m just excited for the group that we have and just trying to be here, just help them learn stuff because you know coming in as a rookie, it’s tough because you’ve got a lot to do. It’s a whole new lifestyle and you’ve got to study the playbook and be in meetings and stuff like that. And so, just being there to just help them with what they need.”
Highsmith has several young players in his outside linebacker room this summer and those players are headlined by the team’s 2023 fourth-round selection, Nick Herbig out of Wisconsin. Additionally, the Steelers signed outside linebacker David Perales out of Fresno State as an undrafted free agent a few weeks ago as well. The rest of the outside linebacker depth chart behind Watt, Highsmith, Herbig and Perales includes a few other young players in Quincy Roche and Toby Ndukwe, who was just signed a few days ago.
Highsmith taking more of a leadership role this offseason is both welcomed and expected. After all, Highsmith is entering his fourth season with the Steelers and so he has enough experiences and knowledge to pass along to the younger players in his position room, especially during the early stages of the offseason practices.
As for Watt not being present at the start of OTAs, it’s really not that big of deal. He’s likely to be in attendance for a good portion of the practices over the course of these three weeks, and he obviously should be present for mandatory minicamp several weeks from now. Until Watt does show up, Highsmith made it clear that he stays in contact with his outside linebacker running mate.
“Yeah, we talk a good bit,” Highsmith said of Watt. “We’re usually catching up on our golf games and stuff like that. But, you know, it’s just cool to be able to have a teammate like him that you can just stay in contact with throughout the offseason. He’s not someone who goes and then comes back. We stay in contact often and so I’m looking forward to seeing him back.”
The Steelers’ first set of OTAs run through Thursday this week with the second set of three practices getting underway next Tuesday. The team’s final set of four OTA practices will begin on June 5 and run through June 8. After that, the team’s mandatory minicamp will run for three consecutive days, beginning on June 15.