Coming off an impressive NFL preseason debut, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie TJ Watt will reportedly start over former Pro Bowler James Harrison at outside linebacker opposite second-year player Bud Dupree during Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, according to Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette.
Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter confirmed that the 39-year-old Harrison, his former teammate, will serve in a “relief pitcher” type of role and will neither start nor get extended playing time at outside linebacker.
“We have two guys who are first-rounders, we drafted them for this,” Porter said. “Now you have to turn them loose and let them play.”
Pittsburgh has had a rotation of right outside linebackers in recent years, as Porter explained that the franchise lacked someone “who it was just theirs and you knew it was theirs” while Harrison continued to age. The Steelers were forced to “rotate them just to try to get something out of everybody,” according to Porter.
“Now it’ll be 48 [Dupree] and 90 [Watt], and they’ll just play until they’re tired,” Porter said. “And when they get tired, somebody will come and relieve them. But it won’t be ‘This is your series and this is the next one’s series.’ We don’t have to do that.”
Porter noted that the Steelers’ new scheme of two primary linebackers is much more similar to previous eras, which included a younger Harrison and LaMarr Woodley taking over the majority of reps at the positions.
“It’s like when Woodley and Harrison were in their heyday, there was no reason to pull them off. When me and [Jason] Gildon were out here, there was no reason to pull us off.
“Now we finally have that. I mean, so, we’re not going to stunt their growth and pull them out when they’re not doing anything wrong. We’re going to let them play.”