Watt: 'Winning is all that matters'

From the get-go, T.J. Watt set his sights set on making an impact on the Steelers after the team selected him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

And it came as no surprise that he did just that. 

Watt, who earned the starting spot at right outside linebacker before the season opener, recorded six tackles and two sacks and his first career interception against the Cleveland Browns in the Steelers first game of the season, his NFL debut. He became only the third player in NFL history, and the first on Kickoff Weekend, to record two sacks and an interception in their NFL debut. He also became the first Steelers player to record two sacks in his NFL debut.

It was just the beginning of what would be an impressive rookie season for Watt, who saw growth every time he took the field.

"I feel like I matured more as a player," said Watt. "I think as you watch the film, the first game it's like, holy cow, man, I look young. I look small. I look everything. And as the season progressed I think I learned to play more within the system and within the group of guys. I was able to take more risks. I'm not afraid to beat a blocker or just stay in my gap.

"I feel like once you collectively learn how each other plays, like I played alongside Cam Heyward the whole season. I really didn't know how Cam played. We had camp and everything, but it's different in a real game scenario. We were able to communicate a lot better with the signals, and then I knew how he played so we could play off each other a lot better as the season went on."

The numbers can't be denied, and they had him in the conversation for the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year. He started 15 games, finishing with 52 tackles, 39 of them solo stops. Watt finished third on the Steelers with seven sacks, second-most by a rookie in Steelers history, the most sacks by any rookie linebacker in the NFL this season, and tied for the second-most among all NFL rookies. He finished with 12 quarterback pressures, eight passes defensed, an interception, forced fumbled and blocked field goal.

Watt was the only linebacker in the NFL to finish the regular season with 50 tackles (52), five sacks (seven), five passes defensed (eight) and one interception (one).

The numbers were a result of Watt's raw talent, but it was more. It was his approach to the game that led to his success, from learning the playbook inside out, to understanding what is expected of a rookie, that all combined for him to be successful.

"I think the number one thing I would tell every single rookie is I feel like I did it right as far as knowing the playbook and just letting my play do the talking," said Watt. "More than anything, when we have guys come in this next year, you don't want to hear a lot of talking about what you've done in the past because it doesn't matter. That's what I really loved about my brothers telling me that because nobody cares what you did in college. They don't care what I did or what you're doing now.

"When I got out there, I was showing them that I know the playbook and I know the signals and I know little intricacies that they won't think I know, but I do know because I've been asking questions. Those are the things where they're like, 'Holy cow, this kid is serious. He knows what he's doing.' It allowed me to play fast and it allowed me to play within the system, which gave them trust in me. It was cool to see our chemistry grow throughout the season."

Watt's brothers, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Chargers fullback Derek Watt, had him prepared before he even walked in the door. But his teammates took over after that, with many of them helping the young linebacker continue to grow.

"It's one of those things where you don't realize how special this place is until you talk to other people who are on other teams," said Watt. "I have a lot of friends around the league, and they're like, 'Wow, it's not like that here at all.' I'm like, 'What do you mean?' I was so accepted as soon as I walked in the door by all the guys, offense and defense.

"Cam has been the biggest help to me throughout this whole process so far. He's just such a great guy on and off the field as a person in the community, in the film room, walkthrough, practice, game field. He's just such a well-rounded professional, a true professional, and he's been able to be my big brother within this facility. I am so thankful for him to take me under his wing and be a great guy for me to lean on.

"It's a special place. I think it's really important that we have a lot of guys who were drafted by the Steelers who are still here. I think that it keeps a lot of things in house, and we love seeing each other grow. We love seeing everyone succeed, and we're not a selfish group at all. That's what allows us to grow and allows us to be so special and have that chemistry. We all have such a special bond that once we get on the field, it doesn't matter who's getting the glory. Winning is all that matters."

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