By Jeremy Hritz
It’s Tuesday, and while the speculation continues to charge, nothing definitive regarding the TJ Watt pectoral injury has been communicated. Later today, Mike Tomlin will hold his weekly press conference, and quite possibly, a concrete direction will be provided. As reported Monday night by Ian Rapoport after hearing from league sources and Tom Pelissero, Watt “could be back in six weeks or so.” Pelissero tweeted, “The timeline means TJ Watt will probably land on injured reserve, though Pittsburgh has not made a move. But a day after facing a dire outlook, there is now optimism one of the NFL’s best players will be back on the field by midseason.”
Though nothing official, the sentiment is growing positive that Watt will be able to return. If the six-week time frame is in fact accurate, Watt could return for the October 30th game in Philadelphia, or take advantage of the following week’s Bye, and then return on November 13th for the matchup against New Orleans. Following the Bye makes more sense, as it will give the DPOY the necessary time to ensure he is fully healed and ready for the winter stretch.
Filling in during his absence will be Malik Reed who the Steelers traded for this offseason from the Denver Broncos. Since Reed will be responsible for such an important role, let’s get know what he will bring to the outside backer position for the Steelers.
Reed played his college football at Nevada, and while he earned several accolades for his play, he went undrafted by the Broncos. At 6’1, 237, Reed has a compact frame and excels more as a pass rusher than a run defender. His best season as a Bronco came in 2020 when he recorded 53 total tackles, 8 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He is also a high-character player who coaches love, and that has been apparent in his interactions with the Pittsburgh media so far this offseason.
So why did the Broncos trade Reed? Jon Heath of Broncos Wire writes, “While Reed was a productive pass rusher, he sometimes struggled to set the edge against the run, and Denver is arguably deeper at outside linebacker than any other position this year.”
So, Reed is a good pass rusher, but average against the run? Sounds like it, but let’s let his game play out before drawing any conclusions.
Sure, Reed is going to be given the bulk of the snaps, but rest assured that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and Tomlin will also get creative with existing personnel and potentially develop some packages to utilize players’ strengths to minimize Watt’s absence. Whether or not they work remains to be seen.
Fingers are crossed that the reported good news is truthful, and that Watt returns after the Bye. And if it means that Reed has to start a chunk of games until the All-World edge rusher is ready to go, that’s a better option than no return at all.
Tomlin always preaches to his players the importance of adversity in shaping the success of his teams. Their first test is in front of them.
How will they respond?