Watt trying to stay out of the ‘dark places’ this year

Steelers star OLB says new-look defense will take time to mesh

TJ Watt wants to avoid the ‘dark places’ this coming winter.

Watt, the Steelers’ dominant, game-wrecking outside linebacker, admitted that the gave some space to fellow star defensive player Cam Heyward following Pittsburgh’s miss of the postseason four months ago.

“I talked to him a good amount, but he definitely goes to dark places early in the offseason,” said Watt of Heyward. “I try to avoid him as much as possible, and not drag me any darker.

Watt’s 2022 season was massively derailed in just his first game following a partially torn pet muscle in Pittsburgh’s Week 1 win over Cincinnati on September 11.

He did not return until November 13. The Steelers, at that point, were 2-6. They finished 9-8, but narrowly missed the postseason.

“Every offseason has its time when you kind of sit back and you reflect,” Watt said. “You're bummed, and you see all your peers still playing football and you're not. You have to crawl your way out and start training.”

Watt did that, as usual. A maniacal preparer, the seventh-year player joined his teammates for OTAs Wednesday, in search of a better end result.

But he does so with a new cast of characters around him. The Steelers overhauled their defense this winter, doing so via free agency and the NFL Draft.

In all, there could be as many as six new starters.

“There's a good mix of older guys that have been through things... and young guys who are eager to learn,” he said. “I think that's a good potion for success.”

That said, all of the new additions could mean that this time becomes slightly more meaningful. But Watt feels that it’s business as usual.

“I mean, it's never going to happen overnight,” he said. “It's going to definitely take some time. We just want to continue to take each and every step in the right direction, but we have a lot of time here and there.”

“Every year we're adding people, so I don't know if it's any truly any different. This time of year is always super important.

“That's why we're all here, and we're just trying to get better each and every day, trying to grow, trying to learn from each other, trying to learn how we practice, how we do things here in Pittsburgh. And also being open minded to the guys that are veterans that have done things successfully in other places.”

One of those guys is Markus Golden, a 32-year-old outside linebacker signed this week, who will add depth to the group led by Watt and Alex Highsmith.

“I think it will help,” Watt said. “I mean, we're always about having depth, especially in the pass rush game. So anybody who has a lot of experience of their own is someone who I'm looking forward to learning from.”

Watt is also willing to be a bit of a sounding board to Pittsburgh’s biggest offseason contract question in Highsmith, who enters the final year of his contract after posting a 14.5 sack season in 2022.

“I’m not giving any advice, really,” Watt said, adding that he’s been impressed with Highsmith’s blossoming confidence. “But If he asks me questions, I’ll offer my advice.” “He’s still really young.”

Watt and Highsmith have the potential to forge one of the NFL’s most lethal pass rushing duos. The two seem destined for that, provided they stay healthy.

But what drives Watt are the plays that haven’t been made.

“And there's so many plays,” he said. “I mean, any pass rusher in the league will tell you that. There's so many more plays to be made.

“I think we always say the same thing after every season. No matter how successful or how unsuccessful, there's always so many more plays left on the plate. It's just about how we can make more of those and not have the plays that didn’t happen.”

Ultimately, Watt hopes that it does all mesh, and that the Steelers’ defense — which finished strong but also got torched far too often in 2022 — will find a way to keep Watt and Heyward out of the 'dark places.'

“I’m just trying to do everything I can,” Watt added. “To win the Super Bowl.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Ben Tenuta