TJ Watt is destroying practice, in a good way

Steelers OLB and DPOY becoming more of a leader, wreaking havoc in camp

It’s just unfair.

That’s the vibe in Latrobe any time TJ Watt steps onto the field against the Steelers’ first team offense during training camp practice. The guy is just too good.

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Watt, who sat out of last year’s camp while awaiting a new contract extension, has been wrecking practices this point.

It’s not a bad thing, per se, but Watt’s sheer dominance at times appears to be stunting the growth of the first team offense.

“I am not going to discourage TJ from being TJ,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, bluntly.

And yeah, Watt shouldn’t have to hold back. The Steelers have to hope that, in the long term, it benefits players like right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, who faced the daunting task of trying to block Watt coming on just about every snap.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get better each and every day,” Watt said Wednesday morning. “Put your best foot forward.”

He’s not going to ask for a day off, but giving the offense a break from his disruption might not be the worst idea.

"We are just going about our business,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “I’m sure he'll have a day or two at some point, just like Cam (Heyward) will have a day or two. It's not to make the offense feel good about it."

Watt’s intensity has, at times, extended beyond the whistle. Tuesday, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year got into a scrap with rookie receiver Calvin Austin III following a tackle. Multiple players had to jump in to separate the two.

“Sometimes you black out and you’re just trying to have fun, getting people involved,” Watt said, with a smile. “And yeah, there was a little skirmish.”

Does he think Austin III had fun?

“Ha, I don’t know, probably not,” he joked.

The dustup aside, Watt has shown a pointed attempt to become more of an example setter for Pittsburgh’s defense, and entire team.

During report day, he shot down some of the faint complaints of players who do not care for the dorm life of Latrobe by saying that all players need to embrace the experience.

“In my role now, as more of a leader, I’m just trying to set the tone and understand that it’s very hard to make plays,” he reiterated Wednesday. “At the end of the day, we have to remember that we’re having fun.”

“He’s always trying to help people get better,” said inside linebacker Robert Spillane. “He’s a loving family member. He takes care of his brothers and that’s all you can ask for as a teammate. He’s really stepped up over the past few years. We have great, veteran leadership.”

Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers have been searching for an offensive leader. While Watt is on the other side of the ball, Mike Tomlin’s team won’t shy away from welcoming anyone into the leadership fold, and Watt is clearly there now.

“I think it’s always been in the plans,” Watt said. “Each year you take one more step and one more step. To be a leader, you have to be very comfortable with who you are in this defense, in the locker room, everything.

“I’m very comfortable. I feel like I have so much more to give to the game, not only for myself, but for my teammates. Not just on the field, but from a developmental standpoint.”

His play has also, somehow taken a step from the 22.5 sack season of 2021 in which he truly established himself as a top 10 player in the NFL.

“Any time he steps on the field, you’ve got to know where he is as an offense,” Spillane said. “He always finds a way to be at the ball at the right time… He’s the defensive player of the year, but he works like he’s an undrafted free agent.”

"You've seen it,” Austin added. “He is the same guy and he's getting better because he works at it. He's an unbelievable football player.  he game is so slow to him in terms of how it unfolds, he's able to get where he needs to be.  It's really a unique thing. You don't find guys like that very often."

There’s an eagerness to see what Watt personally does for an encore following is astounding 2021 year. But that’s not what’s on his mind, at all.

“We’ve got to win a Super Bowl,” he said. “Simple as that.”