Why T.J. Watt feels right at home chasing 'greatness' with Steelers

Rushing the passer is still a work in progress for rookie T.J. Watt, but the Steelers see the motor they're looking for in the first-round pick. Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire

PITTSBURGH -- The drafting of T.J. Watt has largely paid off for the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose first-round pick is tied for second among NFL rookies with four sacks.

But his all-around game has engendered the most optimism in the Steelers locker room as the team kicks off the season's second half Sunday at Indianapolis. Despite missing a game with a groin injury, he's in the top five on the team in tackles (28), passes defended and sacks, and he has one interception.

Perfecting his pass rush will take time. Mentality-wise, though, he seems to fit the description of what the Steelers (6-2) desire from a defender: insatiable drive. Linebackers coach Joey Porter cited Watt's visible disappointment after a leaping near-interception in zone coverage glanced off his fingers at Detroit in Week 8.

"That’s the natural competitor in him and I love him for having that," Porter said. "When you stop having that, then it’s not even fun for you as a player. He’s always going to have that competitive nature in him of always wanting more, and that’s what’s going to drive him to be great."

Watt was tasked with stabilizing the outside linebacker position opposite Bud Dupree while keeping James Harrison off the field. Harrison, at age 39, showed with his Week 6 sack in Kansas City that he's still effective. But it's clear the Steelers want the young Watt and Dupree to supplant him.

That those players couldn't beat backup Lions tackles for a sack was a bit curious. But overall, Watt's instincts and range have been assets.

Watt is taking a broader view of his career than just one game, or even the Steelers' No. 2-ranked scoring defense.

"That’s why I feel I fit so well here, because I’m always trying to chase greatness," Watt said. "Yeah, we put together a few good performances, but we’re always trying to look for that next level."

After the failed Jarvis Jones experiment, the Steelers couldn't afford to miss on Watt, the seventh outside pass-rusher taken in the draft. One question about Watt's game coming out of Wisconsin was whether he had the quick-twitch athleticism to bend the edge.

Porter isn't worried at all about Watt's physical abilities.

"He’s a better athlete than I expected when I got him, period," Porter said. "There’s stuff that he can do that ... it surprised other people. It doesn’t surprise me because I’ve been around him for a few months to see some of the stuff he does in practice."