November 28, 2022

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers could be in for a much-needed jolt as they enter the second half of their season.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the team is optimistic star outside linebacker TJ Watt will be available for Sunday’s visit from New Orleans.

Watt, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has been out since suffering a left pectoral injury late in regulation of a Week 1 overtime win over Cincinnati. The Steelers crumbled without him and finished their bye week at 2-6, the team’s worst record in eight games since 2013.

While Tomlin warned there was still “work ahead of us” for Watt and safety Damontae Kazee (out all year with a wrist injury) before they were activated off injured reserve, they seem to be ready to go barring a late setback.

“Obviously, they’re two veteran players who are capable in the NFL and who are obviously going to contribute positively to our efforts if they’re available,” Tomlin said.

Pittsburgh’s passing rush has essentially disappeared during Watt’s absence. The Steelers racked up seven sacks in the season opener against the Bengals and have managed all eight in seven games since Watt’s exit.

Watt, who tied Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s NFL record last season with 22 1/2 sacks, should provide a boost as Pittsburgh tries to recover from a disappointing first half.

“TJ is who he is,” Tomlin said. “It’s not mystical the things he’s able to do. I don’t know if any of us are surprised at what he can do. We eagerly await his return. »

Watt tried to stay closely involved, including wearing a helmet on the sidelines during games, although Tomlin pointed out that Watt “didn’t make any plays” while being the highest-paid volunteer assistant coach in the league. NFL.

Kazee could also be ready to join a secondary that has essentially been a revolving door through eight games. The Steelers had 10 players in corner or safety suits, with poor results.

It’s one of the reasons they traded for cornerback Will Jackson last week, although Tomlin said Jackson was struggling with a back injury. Jackson saw his time in Washington come to an end when he suffered a back injury earlier this season.

Tomlin called both players “been there, done that guys.”

“I think any time you have a veteran presence, it’s an asset for you,” he said.

Several other defensive players are struggling with injuries that could limit their practice time this week. Linebacker Myles Jack (knee), defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (knee), cornerback Levi Wallace (shoulder) and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) are also bumped.

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