Pittsburgh Steelers LB TJ Watt Returns to Practice

by Nick Geddes
(Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker TJ Watt is inching closer to making his return this season.

Watt returned to practice Wednesday — two days after the Steelers opened the 21-day practice window for last season’s AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Watt, 28, suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the Steelers’ 23-20 Week 1 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. He has been on injured reserve since. His return was further delayed after he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month to clean up a lingering preseason injury.

While Watt’s return to game action is near, head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that he wouldn’t expect it to come in Week 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Steelers will welcome him back with open arms, as the pass rush has been nearly nonexistent without him. Pittsburgh has paced the league in sacks every season since selecting Watt in the first-round of the 2017 NFL Draft. In the win over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh sacked quarterback Joe Burrow seven times — Watt recording one of his own. The Steelers have just five sacks in six games without Watt — 32nd in the NFL. Fellow linebacker Alex Highsmith has 6.5 of the Steelers’ twelve sacks on the season.

TJ Watt Will Make a Difference in Return to Steelers

Watt is coming off a historic season, in which the Wisconsin product broke the all-time single-season sacks record. In 15 games, Watt recorded 22.5 sacks. He racked up 64 tackles — 21 for loss — and forced five fumbles.

The Steelers’ defense, which had been struggling without Watt, has showed signs of improvement in the last two weeks. Pittsburgh surrendered 18 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Week 6 upset victory and 16 in a Week 7 loss to the Miami Dolphins.