Watt gets through first week of practice feeling good

The Steelers have been patiently awaiting the return of All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt to their lineup as he recovers from a pectoral muscle injury that landed him on the Reserve/Injured List after the team's season-opening win in Cincinnati.

But Watt? He's been anything but patient with being sidelined for the past six games.

Watt was designated to return to practice earlier this week and went through the entire week of workouts as the Steelers (2-5) prepared to travel to Philadelphia to play the Eagles (6-0), the NFL's last unbeaten team.

Friday marked his third day back on the practice field, and Watt has been nothing but smiles this week.

"When it's been more than a few weeks, you have all aspects of it. You have the physical aspect of it and then obviously the mental, too. It sucks when you can't physically put your hand in the pile and make a difference on game day," Watt said Friday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex. "I'm trying to find any way to get involved that's possible without stepping on any toes. I'm just excited to get back."

But when he might be activated off the Reserve/Injured List remains to be seen. The Steelers have 21 days for Watt to return to practice to make a decision when they would like to return him to the active roster.

For Watt to be eligible to return to play against the Eagles, he would need to be activated by 4 p.m. Saturday.

He would obviously like to do that, but the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year also wants to be smart about his return and not rush the process. The Steelers also have their bye upcoming following the game against the Eagles, so the more prudent move might be to wait another two weeks. But the desire to play is great.

"All of us here are big-time competitors. I truly love football. I just love playing this game," Watt said. "When something is taken away from you, it's very unfortunate. You can take it one of two ways. I'm just trying to take the positive route and take the time to get my body right and come back whole."

So, does that mean he'll push to play Sunday?

"I don't know, we'll have to see," Watt said.

The Steelers could obviously use Watt's talents on the football field. He tied the NFL single-season record a year ago with 22.5 sacks and added another in the team's season-opening victory over the Bengals before leaving late in the fourth quarter of that game.

There were initial fears he could be lost for the season, but after a couple of days of meeting with doctors and getting other opinions, it was determined he could rehab the injury and return this season. Watt also had a procedure done on his knee while sitting out the past six weeks.

"Yeah," he said when asked if he initially feared the worst. "I've had muscle pulls before, and you feel some sort of pop and a snap. You know immediately that it's not good. It's just a matter of how bad it was. It took us 24 to 48 hours to figure out the severity of it."

The Steelers could certainly use him back on the field. They've gone 1-5 without the star outside linebacker in the lineup and are now 1-9 in games in which he hasn't played since they selected him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

But that's not going to force Watt to rush things any more than it will cause the team to rush the process.

"The Steelers have invested in me to be here long term," Watt said. "I want to be here long term. I want to play at a high level. I have a lot of people in my corner that have my best interest and are going to make sure I do what's right for myself and for this football team."

It's obviously been a difficult process.

Watt isn't accustomed to not being on the field. He's worked hard throughout the rehab process in an attempt to not only get his body back to football shape, but also trying to get better as a player.

The 28-year-old is in the prime of his career.

"I'm always going to try to find a way to get better, not just be a slouch and sit on the couch and eat potato chips and ice whatever body part I'm icing," Watt said "I'm always trying to find a way so that when I come back, the acclimation period is as quick as possible. I feel like I've done a good job with that. We won't know until I actually play."

When that finally happens, be it this weekend or when the Steelers return to action following their bye week on Nov. 13 against the Saints, he can continue his assault on the Steelers' record book.

He already owns the team's single-season sack record. Up next is the team's career sack record. Watt's 73 career sacks are third on the team's all-time list behind James Harrison (80.5) and Jason Gildon (77.0).

If not for the injury, there's a good chance he already would have set that new mark. But there's nothing he can do about that now.

"It's tough. It's a tough game," Watt said. "Some fluky things happen. They can happen on any given play. If anything, it just gives me more of a reason to not take this game for granted. It sucks not being able to practice and not being able to play. But when you come back, it makes you cherish it that much more and makes you want it that much more. That's the approach I'm taking."

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