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T.J. Watt responsible for communicating the Steelers defensive play calls during Week 1

Mike Tomlin revealed the outside linebacker handled the communication duties and the responsibility will be determined week-to-week

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Have you never wondered why certain players have a green dot on the back of their helmet? In case you didn’t realize it, the dot signifies which helmets are equipped with the speaker system in order for coaches to communicate to a player during the game. When the team is on the field, only one player is allowed to have communications come into their helmet in order for them to relay the information with the rest of the team. On offense, that player is the quarterback. On defense, the responsibility could go to any player. Most importantly, this player needs to be on the field for a majority of the snaps in order to not disrupt the communication system.

While some people may see it as an insignificant task, there were Steelers’ fans who were very curious as to who would get the green dot for the Steelers defense. Vince Williams handled the responsibility majority the time in 2018. Usually it is a player such as a middle linebacker who gets this job. But with the Steelers rotating their inside linebackers based on offensive personnel, juggling the green dot responsibilities could be very tricky. The last thing you want is to be unclear who is communicating a plays to rest of the defense.

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked who handled the defensive calls and if there was any communication problems in their game in Week 1 against the New England Patriots.

“There’s always communication problems early in the year,” Tomlin answered. “I don’t want to make more out of that then what it is. T.J. Watt carried the dot in the last game because he was probably the most indispensable second level defender, a guy that’s positioned within the group to communicate with those in front and those behind. Obviously with the way that we were rotating our inside linebackers situationally those guys were moving in and out of the game, there would be more fluidity if we had the dot on Watt and that’s why we did it.

“We’ll make those decisions week-to-week as we define our roles and as we gain traction in that regard,” Tomlin explained. “He’s a capable guy, good communicator and leader, non-issue there in terms of what he’s capable of doing.”

It’s surprising the Steelers used an outside linebacker to make their play calls. Usually hovering around the line of scrimmage, it could be difficult for Watt to get a call back to the secondary. For this reason, the inside linebackers have usually handled this responsibility the majority of the time for the Steelers. Tomlin was asked about having an outside player making the calls as opposed to an inside player.

“There’s no global guidelines, it just better be somebody that’s on the field almost all the time.”

Being on the field might be the biggest concern when it comes to determining the play-calling responsibilities for the defense. In Week 1, Kam Kelly, Terrell Edmunds, and Steven Nelson played all 70 snaps on defense while Joe Haden only missed one due to having to come out of the game with an injury. T.J. Watt also missed snaps due to a hip injury and played 84% of the snaps. As for the middle linebackers, Devin Bush led the way with 76% of the snaps with Mark Barron logging 69% and Vince Williams with 31%.

Experience is most likely another determining factor in who calls the defensive plays. Other than middle linebacker, the next best suitable position to get the green dot would be one of the safeties. But for the Steelers Week 1 game, Terrell Edmunds was just entering his second season in the league while Kam Kelly was making his NFL debut. While Edmunds could have been called upon, between his lack of experience and the need to position himself in a variety of places within the defense, the communication responsibility might have been too much to ask.

As for middle linebacker, Vince Williams was not on the field enough to justify being in charge of communications. And with Devin Bush and Mark Barron both playing their first game for the Steelers, it’s unclear if the added responsibility was something the Steelers wanted to do right out of the gate.

Having a cornerback call the plays is difficult with how wide they are spread in most defensive sets. While outside linebackers experience this to a lesser level, it didn’t seem to be too much to handle for Watt. Coach Tomlin was asked if there was any concern with an outside linebacker calling the plays and getting them across the field.

“No, it’s not a concern. You could say if I had it on the left safety how would he communicate with the right side of the defense. Probably making more out of that then what it is.”

While the Steelers are hopeful for Watt and the other players who were injured on Sunday to be available in Week 2, there are no guarantees at this point in the week. If Watt were to not play or to be limited this Sunday, who would get the communication responsibilities? Wouldn’t go to one of the inside linebackers? Would Sean Davis have gotten the green dot in Week 1 had he been available?

These are questions which will most likely not be answered until game time on Sunday. Will these questions even be a factor? If communication becomes an issue on defense, then it will definitely be a factor. Hopefully the Steelers defensive production will keep fans from even asking the question this week.