Steelers coach Mike Tomlin optimistic T.J. Watt's injury isn't season-ending

Joe Rutter
The Tribune-Review, Greensburg (TNS)

When T.J. Watt walked off the field with 16 seconds to play in the fourth quarter and pointed to his left pectoral muscle, the Pittsburgh Steelers suspected they might be without the NFL’s defensive player of the year for a significant amount of time.

That may still be the case, but coach Mike Tomlin no longer fears that Watt’s injury will end his season.

“We’re probably in a lot better place than we were after the game,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin walks onto the field prior to an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Cincinnati.

Watt underwent an MRI on Monday and the Steelers are seeking second and third medical opinions before determining how much time he might miss.

For the immediate future, though, Watt won’t play Sunday against the New England Patriots in the Steelers’ home opener.

“I won’t make any commitments beyond that,” Tomlin said. “We’re encouraged and we’ll continue to look at the situation and gain opinions and do what is appropriate.”

The Steelers have until the end of the week to place Watt on injured reserve and add a player to the active roster.

Tomlin also didn’t rule out Watt needing surgery to repair the pectoral tear.

“I can’t definitively say anything when we’re pursuing second and third opinions,” he said.

For the short term, the Steelers will turn to a pair of outside linebackers added to the 53-man roster in the past two weeks: Malik Reed, a fourth-year veteran acquired from Denver, and Jamir Jones, who was claimed off waivers from Jacksonville.

The Steelers also signed former Washington Commanders outside linebacker Ryan Anderson to the practice squad, NFL Network reported.

Watt had six tackles, including three for a loss, one sack and an interception prior to his injury. He was coming off a season in which he tied the NFL single-season sacks record.

“When you lose a guy like that, it’s not about the guys who occupy his position of left outside linebacker,” Tomlin said. “It’s about how we redistribute his responsibilities collectively to produce the collective outcome we desire.

“Those guys aren’t going to be T.J. It’s not realistic to think that they are going to be T.J. We expect them to be varsity, and we’re going to formulate a plan to redistribute the responsibilities to lean on our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.”

Anderson, 28, spent four seasons (2017-20) with Washington but did not play last season. He made four starts in 52 games and totaled six sacks. Anderson signed with the New York Giants as a free agent in 2021 but he was suspended in August for six games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. He was released two days later.

In other injury news, Tomlin said running back Najee Harris wants to play against the Patriots after leaving in the fourth quarter against the Bengals with a foot injury. He said the injury is not related to the Lisfranc sprain that Harris sustained in training camp and kept him from practicing or playing for nearly four weeks.

“Naj is really optimistic,” Tomlin said. “It’s good to be young.”

Tomlin said Harris will have to practice by Friday in order to suit up for the game.

“He’s a talented guy, but a young guy so I want to see some work from him,” Tomlin said. “We’ll go day by day and see where that leads us.”

The backup for the season opener was Jaylen Warren an undrafted free agent who made his NFL debut. Warren carried three times for 7 yards and played 23 snaps on offense and 11 more on special teams.

“He didn’t urinate down his leg. That’s a great place to begin,” Tomlin said.

Center Mason Cole also could miss practice time as he deals with an ankle injury that kept him out for four snaps against the Bengals.