Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt is on a tear this season and very well might win NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in his career. Watt currently ranks second in the league in sacks with 10.5. It’s the fifth double-digit sack season in seven years for the franchise all-time sacks leader (88 sacks). But rookie Keeanu Benton is making life easier for the Defenisve Player of the Year.
“As an edge rusher, when you can get that interior push it makes life so much easier for us, and to be able to really burn the corner, knowing that the quarterback’s not gonna be able to step up makes life a lot easier for us,” Watt said during a recent interview on the Green Light With Chris Long podcast. “Having a guy, that’s 300-310 plus pounds, be able to move like (Benton) does. He’s one of the only guys that I know that can actually capture the shoulder, like a drill tape. Like hit the two shuffles and the swim over. I’ve never seen that work until he came here, and it’s like his bread and butter. He’s been playing some really good football for us and it’s not just in the pass game, he’s playing the run really well. I don’t want to talk about too much to get his head to bigger, but he is playing some really good football.”
Watt thinks Keeanu Benton, being a fellow Wisconsin Badger and playing in Jim Leonard’s 3-4 defense, has helped him tremendously in transitioning to the Steelers’ defense. Leonard ran a lot of concepts similar to those of the Steelers when he was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin.
“It’s that Badger 3-4 defense. That’s why you see the correlation with Jim Leonard’s defense,” Watt said. “It’s very similar to what we do here. It’s pretty much just translating the language. But all the movements, he’s very similar with as you can tell.”
In the Steelers’ 23-19 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Benton went off with seven tackles and two pressures. He has 15 pressures on the season, according to Pro Football Focus. Mike Tomlin gave high praise to the rookie out of Wisconsin during his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
“He’s come on like gangbusters every week,” Tomlin said of Benton. “He’s getting better. You can’t deny that. It’s an awesome thing because we need it.”
Getting praise from Watt and Tomlin certainly speaks volumes to how well Benton has played in his rookie campaign. He’ll need to continue to dominate down the stretch to help the Steelers make the postseason. Thus far, it appears Benton’s the next-star defensive lineman in Pittsburgh.