PITTSBURGH — The Steelers have to make something happen without Cam Heyward. Pittsburgh’s co-defensive captain hit the injured reserve after core muscle surgery on Thursday, which will sideline him throughout at least the bye week. Still, Heyward is not expected back until November.
Injuries limited Larry Ogunjobi and DeMarvin Leal both. But the Steelers are looking for someone to make a difference. A sleeper option to make that impact would be Armon Watts. Watts confirmed to Steelers Now that he started running with the first team on Thursday. Some of that is due to circumstances, but he will be a heavy part of the rotation and play with the newly-minted rotation. There is something to Watts’ game that lends itself to hitting itself off Isaiahh Loudermilk, DeMarvin Leal, and others with a different play style.
“We just all have to work together to replace him (Heyward),” Watts said. “You know, they’re quicker for a guy like Leal and Loudermilk. I’m a heavier guy with a different style. So, those offensive linemen will have to adjust to those different looks against our guys.”
Known for his two-handed swipe, Watts would not give out the secrets on the move but noted certain sets and types of players he would go to the well with it against. He has used that move since he was in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Unlike most others in the rotation, Watts has pass-rush juice and a cache of moves he works off. Defenisve coordinator Teryl Austin noted that replacing Heyward is a complete team effort, not just a one-man job.
“I think it’ll be by committee. We have a lot of good young guys in the program, so we’ll try to get them in and let them play to their strengths and different things that we think they do well. But it’s not going to be one guy that replaces him. He’s right about that,” Austin said.
Watts is the odd man of the Steelers defensive line group. Last week, they opted to lean heavily into the run defense department. But out of those backups, Watts has the most proven NFL pass rush ability and upside. That could allow him to play a crucial role without Cam Heyward in helping the Steelers stabilize some of their interior pass-rush looks while Ogunjobi gets healthy.
In the preseason, Watts registered five pressures and three hits on the quarterback. Watts wins with quick, precise hand usage and is just a few years removed from a five-sack campaign. Expect to see Pittsburgh allow that power to pop and get him as the crasher on some stunts at times.