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Camp Position Preview: Outside Linebackers

This is the fourth in a series looking at the Steelers by position heading into their 2024 training camp at Saint Vincent College July 24. Today: Outside Linebackers

Players (8): T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Nick Herbig, David Perales, Jeremiah Moon, Kyron Johnson, Julius Welschof, Jacoby Windman

Voters for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2023 might have done the Steelers a service.

Despite becoming the first player to lead the league in sacks in three different seasons since 1970, T.J. Watt was snubbed when it came to winning that award for a second time.

Instead, the award went to Cleveland's Myles Garrett, who finished tied for seventh in the NFL with 14 sacks, five behind Watt's league-leading number.

Winning that award might not be what drives Watt to greatness, but when you're very clearly snubbed, it does matter.

As it is, Watt enters the 2024 season with a team-record 96.5 sacks in just 104 career games, meaning he could become the second-fastest player in league history to reach 100 sacks if he can get there in the Steelers' first two games.

Reggie White accomplished the feat in just 96 career games, while Lawrence Taylor did it in 106 games.

But what really drives Watt now is doing something else both White and Taylor did – winning playoff games and a Super Bowl.

"For me, it is all about no playoff wins," said Watt, who is 0-3 in the postseason, to The Athletic. "I am trying to do anything I can do. We have so much turnover year to year and so many new guys that it is trying to learn as much as possible coming from guys from other organizations that have done it and won championships since being in the league.

"I am going to do whatever is possible to win. It is about not taking any day for granted, and when it comes down to executing and working, putting everything aside and getting it done."

One player who does return is Watt's running mate on the opposite side of the defense, fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith.

After recording a career-high 14.5 sacks in 2022 with Watt sidelined for much of the season, Highsmith had seven sacks in 2023. But his overall pass rush numbers and ability to set the edge were unchanged from the previous season.

Watt and Highsmith form one of the best edge duos in the NFL.

Behind them, rookie Nick Herbig showed great promise as a speed player off the edge a year ago, recording 27 tackles and three sacks in limited playing time.

More will be asked of Herbig in his second season, as he could wind up being the top backup at both outside linebacker spots along with serving as a core special teams player.

The Steelers let veteran Markus Golden test free agency, and Golden, who had four sacks in 2023, remains available on the open market.

The Steelers do have some interesting options to potentially add to the mix in veterans Kyron Johnson, Jeremiah Moon and David Perales.

Johnson, something of a special teams ace, had eight tackles in 2022 – seven on special teams – for the Eagles and spent six games on the Steelers' active roster in 2023.

Moon, meanwhile, appeared in eight games with the Ravens in 2023, making one start, that coming against the Steelers in last season's regular season finale. He has 12 career tackles and two forced fumbles in limited playing time.

Perales was with the Steelers in training camp a year ago and spent time on the team's practice squad. He had 23 career sacks in 33 games at Fresno State.

Undrafted rookie Jacoby Windman had 18.5 career sacks in 41 games at UNLV and Michigan State, while fellow rookie Julius Julius Welschof spent four seasons at Michigan before finishing his career at Charlotte, the same school that produced Highsmith.

Welschof is a native of Germany.

With the NFL's new kickoff rules going into effect this season, it's critical that the backup outside linebackers be able to contribute heavily on special teams.