‘There’s Not A Locker Room-Wide Panic’: T.J. Watt Says Young Guys Are Ready To ‘Step Up’ With Cameron Heyward’s Absence
Last season, Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt got hurt in Week One of the season, having to go to IR where he stayed until after the bye week, missing seven games. So, Watt can relate to what DL Cameron Heyward is going through as he has been placed on IR after undergoing sports hernia surgery for a groin injury suffered last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
Heyward is expected to miss nearly two months as he recovers, meaning that the defense will be without one of their captains and their leader along the defensive line. Still, Watt isn’t worried about taking on a greater leadership role in his absence, speaking to reporters that he has his role on the team and that the young guys in the defensive line room will be counted on to step up as their leader is on the mend.
“I mean there’s not a locker room-wide panic,” Watt said to the media on video at Steelers.com. “We’re not acting different. I’m not gonna try to be someone that I’m not ’cause obviously Cam is in his leadership role. I have my leadership role. It just takes everybody putting their hand in the pile and continuing to work and have the young guys the next guy mentality step up and I feel like we’re gonna do a good job of it.”
Watt is already this team’s superman, providing incredible play on the field as well as leadership and a veteran example of what to do off of it. For him to try and take one Heyward’s leadership role on top of what he already does would be nearly impossible as Watt can’t do much more than what he already is for the team.
Losing Heyward for the next several weeks is going to hurt Pittsburgh defense to some capacity, but Watt knows that there is plenty of veteran leadership to hold down the fort in his absence. He and Minkah Fitzpatrick are the other two superstars of the defense that represent core leaders of the team while OLB Alex Highsmith is quickly developing into that role himself. CB Patrick Peterson has been a mentor in the secondary since being added this offseason while DL Larry Ogunjobi provides a leadership presence along the defensive line, having been a productive player throughout his tenure in the league.
Still, the young players on Pittsburgh’s roster will be counted on to step up in Heyward’s absence from the field. DC Teryl Austin mentioned that one man can’t replace Heyward and what he brings to the table, suggesting that it will be a collective effort to get the job done. DL Keeanu Benton, DeMarvin Leal, and Isaiahh Loudermilk are all young guys that will likely see an uptick of snaps with Heyward out, each having an opportunity to step up and separate themselves as a difference maker in the coming weeks. Veterans like Ogunjobi and Montravius Adams with also be counted on to be that stable presence for Pittsburgh on the defensive line, making up for the loss of Heyward as they guide the young guys on the field while execute their duties as well.
The Steelers will surely miss Heyward the next several weeks, but expecting guys like Watt and Fitzpatrick to pick up the leadership he provides isn’t reasonable given what they already do for the team. Rather, it’s the young guys on the defensive lien that need to step up, going through trial by fire as they get tested, being forced to grow up and learn on the fly to prove they can be long-term building blocks on the defensive line for years to come.