I’ve stated this several times on this fine website. When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted T.J. Watt, I felt they drafted a project. I believed Watt had a ridiculous ceiling, but needed some time before he would make an impact on the field.
I am man enough to admit I was dead wrong.
Since Watt stepped foot into the city of Pittsburgh, he has done nothing but impress. Impressed coaches, owners, teammates and especially the fans. He burst onto the scene and has solidified himself as the starting right outside linebacker for the Black-and-gold.
It makes you think—if this is how good T.J. Watt is now, imagine what he’ll be like when he gets one full year under his belt.
The sky is the limit.
Time to take a look at the news surrounding the Steelers outside the walls of BTSC:
The measuring stick for T.J. Watt stands an inch taller and is about 40 pounds heavier, but it might as well have the dimensions of the U.S. Steel Tower.
When you're the younger brother of three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt and play on the same side of the ball, expectations are on a grander scale than for most NFL rookies. Living up to them can be more taxing than the IRS code.
“He feels like he can't do anything right,” Steelers outside linebacker coach Joey Porter said about his first-year pupil. “I try to tell him you're playing good, don't worry about it.”
No worries necessary.
Halfway through his rookie season, T.J. Watt is entrenched as a starter at right outside linebacker for the Steelers. He is tied for second on the team in sacks and ranks second among all NFL rookies in that category. He has also shown an ability to stop the run and drop into pass coverage, requirements of an outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme.
It's a promising start to an NFL career to be sure, but perhaps not when you grew up in the shadow of big brother J.J., the 6-foot-5, 290-pound wrecking ball for the Houston Texans who is nursing a season-ending injury.
T.J also came through the Pewaukee (Wisc.) High School pipeline after yet another brother, Derek, a fullback with the Los Angeles Chargers.
“From his background and where the family comes from, I'm pretty sure he's getting criticism from home,” Porter said, “so he's always going to do a little more.”
His older brothers may be in his ear, but T.J said that’s not what’s driving him to excel in his rookie season.
“I'm my biggest critic,” he said. “If I'm not, then something is wrong. I always want to play better.”
Antonio Brown hasn't hit his 30th birthday yet. But in his eighth season and still in his prime, Brown is beginning the stage of his career where his peers are getting younger and younger.
No problem says Steelers’ receivers coach Richard Mann.
“He's always sharpening his tools of his fundamentals of what he does,” Mann said of Brown, who leads the NFL with 57 catches and 835 yards. “Footwork, top of the routes, getting off the ball, stacking people. We work at that all the time in the drills, and when we don't do it, he will come and say ‘Coach, let's stack.'
“As you get older playing receiver, if you've got good fundamentals, you can maintain and still have an edge on people who might have an edge on you as far as age, and I think that's the bottom line: the technique and the fundamentals.”
Eleven days before the regular season began, Tomlin's preseason evaluation of his team's tight end corps was this: “The guys haven't been consistently varsity enough for our comfort.”
Midway through the season, the unit's position coach painted a rosier picture.
“I've been impressed,” James Daniel said. “They've worked hard and done a good job, in my opinion.”
The Steelers' three tight ends have combined for 24 catches for 268 yards. Jesse James had two touchdowns in the season opener, the position group's only scores this season.
The Steelers have dressed only two tight ends for five of their eight games. Xavier Grimble was a healthy scratch once, and Vance McDonald has missed two games because of injury.
Acquired via trade just before the Steelers' preseason finale, McDonald (knee) has sat out the past 1½ games.
After an assimilation period into the offense — and a couple of dropped passes — McDonald was beginning to produce in the passing game before his injury. McDonald has three catches, including a 28- and 26-yarder, over a five-quarter span before leaving the Week 7 win against Cincinnati before halftime.
“I think he had to be here for a little while just to learn the terminology and learn everything,” Daniel said. “I think he was feeling a bit more comfortable before he got hurt. Hopefully when he comes back, he will fit right back into that mold.”