We’ve come a long way from T.J. Watt as a rookie, a young player with a family reputation to live up to who was relatively inexperienced at his position. Even as a first-round pick, he came in still with plenty left to learn, but he had the resources—both within himself and through his brothers and his teammates—to get up to speed in a hurry, quick enough to be a full-time starter on opening day.
Flash forward half a decade, and he is now one of the leaders of the defense, and certainly the leader of the edge rusher room, not to mention inarguably one of the great players of his era. And he’s more than happy to take up the position of teacher now that he’s established, which he’s been doing for the likes of Hamilcar Rashed Jr. and Derrek Tuszka.
“I’ve always said I’m an open book to these guys. Any questions that they have, I’m willing to help anybody get better if they want the help”, Watt told reporters in the locker room on Thursday, via the team’s website. “I’m never gonna push what I know and my experience onto people”, he added when asked about Tuszka approaching him with frequent questions, “but if they want to ask me, I’m always gonna be an open book, and I never have a problem trying to help out a younger guy”.
As far as Tuszka goes specifically, he appears to be in the position of the top backup outside linebacker, the next man up, and with Alex Highsmith remaining sidelined with a rib injury, that is not insignificant. A third-year former college free agent, he has actually still only been with the team for under a year. He was originally signed to their initial practice squad after being waived by the Denver Broncos in the final roster cuts and going unclaimed.
“I always forget that he wasn’t here during training camp last year, so I always look at him sideways like, ‘What, you don’t remember this from last year?’”, Watt said of Tuszka. “But he’s done a great job of acclimating as quickly as he did last year, and I feel like he’s gotten a lot more comfortable with the reps that he’s had this year”.
Despite coming in without the benefit of any offseason work, Tuszka quickly earned a promotion to the 53-man roster that would stick, indeed at the expense of Jamir Jones, who beat out then-rookie Quincy Roche for the job initially.
He would go on to play about 250 snaps on defense during the regular season for the Steelers in 2021, as well as nearly another 200 on special teams. It’s difficult to anticipate if he will have a larger role than that because it depends upon the health at the position, if indeed he is to remain the top rotational edge. That remains to be seen, as it is a key position the team could look to add to in the coming weeks.