Playing on different sides might not seem like a big deal, but it actually does make a difference for some NFL players. All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt recently revealed on Ben Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast that he despises playing on the right side, which he did only in his rookie season to impress the coaches.
“When I came here it was like, ‘I’ll play right side coach,’ I hate playing right side,” Watt said. “But if it’s for the team, let’s do it and that’s why after my first year I was like, ‘Can I please go to left?'”
Watt has never looked back since switching to the left side in 2018, as he’s earned five straight trips to the Pro Bowl, three first-team All-Pro nominations and Defensive Player of the Year in 2021, a season in which he tied the NFL single-season sack record with 22.5. From the left side, Watt has recorded 72 sacks, 78 tackles for loss, 149 quarterback hits and 22 forced fumbles.
“It just doesn’t feel right. It feels like I’m writing with my left hand,” Watt said of playing on the right side. “The bend isn’t the same. I just have so much muscle memory on the left side and it feels so natural. It just comes to me. When I’m on the right, it’s like I’m working against my body.”
Former Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison told Roethlisberger on a previous Footbhalin episode that he was pushing for the coaching staff to move Watt over to the left side, and it wasn’t because he wanted playing time. Harrison said he saw a move in practice from Watt on the left that he couldn’t do lined up on the other side.
“I guess they decided after the year, move him to the left side and instant double-digit sacks,” Harrison said. “Like, I got a move on my right I can’t do on my left. If you are going against a better tackle, it speaks a little bit more, but you’re still professional athletes. If he stays healthy man there is no limit, no limit.”
Watt says he experiments sometimes of going on the right side, but he doesn’t want to waste reps.
“This time of year, I’ll experiment and sometimes I’ll go over there. But I’m always like if I go over there for one rush, I’m wasting one rush on the left that could be the one to change games,” Watt said.
Most edge rushers like rushing from the right, since it’s the quarterbacks blindside, but Watt sees plenty of advantages with the left side.
“There’s just so many more opportunities. A lot of the quick game, you rise up and throw it out there, I feel like I can see your eyes more. Play-action pass. I just feel like I can see more of the game from the left side,” Watt said. “And I don’t want to waste that opportunity on the right side. I’d rather put all my eggs all in one basket.”