Though it isn’t something that’s never happened before, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still entering somewhat uncharted territory this week in game-planning for a stretch during which they know for certain that they won’t have T.J. Watt available. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year suffered a pectoral injury in the opener that landed him on the Reserve/Injured List, which means he will miss at least the next four games.
The proverbial next man up is Malik Reed, who has been confirmed as taking the first-team reps at left outside linebacker in practice. The Steelers originally acquired him via trade from the Denver Broncos on the day of the final roster cuts, but he’s already earned the confidence of his teammates.
“Malik can rush the passer”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward told reporters yesterday via the team’s website. “He’s a savvy vet who has had a lot of success in Denver. We believe in him. I don’t think anyone in the organization wouldn’t trust otherwise. I think it just comes down to how quick he can pick up the playbook and feel comfortable in it”.
A former college free agent, Reed has logged a lot of snaps for the Broncos—1992 over three seasons, defensively, to be exact. He has served as spot starter numerous times during that stretch because of injuries to Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, resulting in him starting 34 out of 45 games played since 2019.
That’s a far cry from the level of experience the rest of the Steelers’ depth has at the position, now consisting of Jamir Jones and David Anenih. The latter was just acquired yesterday as a rookie college free agent, signed off of the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad, and this will be his first NFL game. Jones did play a fair bit last season for various teams, but primarily on special teams.
Reed’s best season came in 2020 when he was filler in for Miller, who missed the entire season. He recorded a career-high eight sacks that year, along with 53 total tackles, among them eight for loss. He also had 17 quarterback hits.
If they can get that kind of production out of him, prorated over the length of time that Watt misses, then you would have to consider that a win for the Steelers. You’re obviously not going to replicate what you’re missing when you’re absent such an important player, but if you can just get a group of guys who can hold their own and not be a liability, then you’ve done your job.