Perhaps the biggest news, if not only piece of true news coming out of the Steelers first OTAs last week was that T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, the Steelers twin first round draft pick outside linebackers, were switching sides.
A lot of the “news” that comes out of OTA’s, or football in shorts, doesn’t amount to much (remember the Dallas Baker OTA breakout in 2008? Nope, neither did I), but if Jim Wexell’s reporting is correct, the Steelers outside linebacker swap is permanent.
- Such a shift might sound crazy for a player like T.J. Watt, perhaps the more promising stud outside linebacker coming off a tremendous first year.
On the surface, this might seem kind of silly. Why would a defense that’s been struggling to find its way the past few seasons mettle with perhaps its best young asset and someone who could develop into its best splash-player?
- Maybe because that defense needs T.J. Watt to make splashes in other areas, like while covering the tight end, a job Dupree was often tasked with a season ago.
With the unfortunate spinal injury suffered by inside linebacker Ryan Shazier late last year, the Steelers defense lost its best athlete, a player the unit relied on to do many things.
T.J. Watt may not be on Ryan Shazier‘s athletic level, but judging by his ability to switch from tight end to outside linebacker in college, along with his ability to quickly grasp the Steelers defense in his very first season, he may actually be pretty darn close.
In addition to his seven sacks, T.J. Watt recorded 54 tackles, seven passes defensed and an interception in 2017. And for good measure, he even blocked a field goal.
Like Ryan Shazier, T.J. Watt certainly has the ability–both physically and mentally–to do a lot of things on the football field, and perhaps those abilities are needed in other areas of the defense.
- Will this hurt the Steelers pass rush? It says it here that it won’t.
For starters, Pittsburgh recorded a franchise record 56 sacks a season ago, with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree accounting for only 13 of those. Second, while Bud Dupree has struggled to get over the hump, he’s clearly shown a more explosive pass-rushing gear that, say, Jarvis Jones. Put over on a side where rushing the passer is a bigger part of his job requirement, Bud Dupree might actually excel and turn into the player many thought he was tantalizingly close to becoming even a year ago at this time.
- The whole key in this potential switch, of course, is T.J. Watt.
Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler obviously don’t want to make its defense weaker by putting such a young stud in a position where his skills won’t flourish.
But while it is a small sample size, T.J. Watt has shown nothing but the ability to be a stud no matter where he plays on a football field.
In today’s Steelers defense where outside linebackers are asked to do so much more than just rush the passer, the left side just might be where T.J. Watt can do the most good.