When you think of the turning point for the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers, you could point to a myriad of things.
- The bye week for the young offense
- Protecting the football
- The return of T.J. Watt off Injured Reserve (IR)
The last one on the list might have been the most important part of the Steelers turnaround, and not just the defense. In fact, tight end Pat Freiermuth credits Watt’s return with providing the spark for the entire team, not just the defense.
“Having T.J. back helped a lot,” Freiermuth told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “He raised the level of competitiveness on the defense and that carried over to the offense. Kenny and the offensive line did a great job managing the game. I think Kenny did a good job of making plays when needed. The progression of the o-line throughout the season, we were able to run the ball and it’s going to be hard to stop us when we get Najee (Harris) running downhill and then creating explosive plays in the passing game.
“We were a young team in the beginning of season. I think we grew up fast and I’m excited for the future of this organization and the future of this team.”
Watt can have that impact on the team, in many ways. The Steelers’ win-loss numbers without Watt have been widely publicized, and not for the good reasons. Watt’s return certainly lit a fire under the players, and Freiermuth would be one of those players who felt the heat.
Throughout the season the young tight end saw a lot of growth in his game, but also still areas where he can improve.
“I saw a lot of growth in different areas of my game,” said Freiermuth. “If I took a step forward, it was in my run after catch and the number of targets I saw and the yardage. Obviously, I wish that I had more touchdowns and I wish that I put together blocking more throughout stretches instead of little increments.
“There’s always room for improvement. That’s part of being a professional athlete. They get paid on the other side too and any time you’re competing against someone else, you have to bring your best. If you’re lacking one day, it’s going to show up big.
“It’s never enough. You can never be satisfied with staying level. If you become complacent, you’re going to get jumped by someone behind you or you’re not going to have the career you want to have. That’s how I was raised. I was born to always look for room for improvement and never be satisfied.”
One of the scariest moments of the regular season for both Freiermuth and the fan base was when he went down with a knee injury in the season finale vs. the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium.
As Freiermuth was quickly ruled out of the game, fans, and the organization, likely feared the worst. If Freiermuth would have suffered a significant knee injury, his offseason wouldn’t have been about rest and recovery, but surgery and physical therapy. This all just to be a viable option by training camp at Saint Vincent College.
Nonetheless, the Steelers and Freiermuth dodged a bullet.
“I went down, and I heard something,” Freiermuth recalled. “I definitely thought the worst and I was praying that it wasn’t. And I’m happy that it’s not.
“I’m very lucky that I dodged a bullet. I’m happy there’s no surgery and it’s just a sprain and so a month rehab and I’ll be good.
“Obviously the first month and a half of the offseason is just getting your body back and then getting back to your base level. So, I have to continue to do that and take some rest. But with rehab, that’s kind of my rest, just rehabbing my knee and then go from there.”
The Steelers will be glad Freiermuth will be back healthy without any major surgery needing to be done, and the hope is they also get T.J. Watt back and ready to go for 2023. Both of these players will be needed if the Steelers want to make a serious run at the AFC North crown and a deep playoff run next season. Will it happen? Let’s hope so, but in the meantime the focus is for all of the Steelers to get their bodies and minds right before returning to work for Organized Team Activities (OTAs) this spring.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the NFL offseason.