When OTAs started for the Steelers last year, T.J. Watt made what might have seemed like a subtle change, but turned out to be a huge one for the team’s top outside pass rusher.
Watt flipped sides with Bud Dupree, Watt moving to the left while Dupree went to the right. Fast forward to today, and it’s a move that made all the difference in the world for Watt.
“I was all for it,” said Watt. “I thought I would be a better football player from the left side. I just overall felt I would be a more comfortable player and I can use my eyes and hands to see into the backfield more and just be more aware of what is happening. In college I played both sides. We played field and boundary. I was always the boundary backer. I would play both sides throughout the game, throughout the year. The left side is definitely home for me.
“I don’t know why, but on the right side I felt like I couldn’t see through the left tackle to the quarterback to see what was happening. On the left side I felt more comfortable. I could see the quarterbacks arm motion. I could get up and affect more passes, even though I didn’t bat down nearly as many passes as I wanted to. I am a right handed dominant player too. Overall it was way more comfortable. If I go over to the right side now for a rep or two, it feels weird.”
If you look at the stats, the proof is in the pudding as far as how the move worked out for him. Watt led the Steelers’ defense and tied for second among all NFL linebackers with 13 sacks in 2018. He was the only NFL player to finish the 2018 regular season with at least 65 total tackles (68), 10 sacks (13) and five defensive forced fumbles (6).
Watt has recorded 20 sacks over the last two seasons, the most ever by a Steelers in their first two seasons in the NFL – and the fourth-most among all NFL linebackers from 2017-18.
And he was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his young career.
“I feel like it was a step in the right direction for where I want to go,” said Watt. “I think that is the biggest thing for me, to constantly be trending upwards as a player, as a teammate and as a leader for this team.
“I think the more success you have the harder it gets. You start to figure out this league. It’s hard to have consistency, it’s hard to duplicate success. It’s hard to get to the quarterback. It’s hard to lead a group of guys. It’s hard to do a lot of things at an elite level, at the highest level, of football. I think the challenge for me this offseason is to find ways to challenge myself. I am always going to be really hungry for success and to be pressed to come back hungrier than ever. I want to perform at an elite level.”
Elite is a word that is often used in football, sometimes overused. Getting to the NFL you have to be talented, you have to be special. Elite is another story, and it’s something Watt definitely has in him.
“It’s about not being satisfied,” said Watt. “Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I had a good year, but I feel like I could have had a lot better of a year. As the season went on I definitely feel like I got better, that I caught fire towards the end of the season as a pass rusher, impact player. I wish I would have learned it quicker in the season. But I am happy it happened, I am happy I was able to learn what I was good at, what I could get better at. Then it’s about working on things I know I can get better at, things I can focus on this offseason. I am not satisfied, so I am going to keep working.”