Mark Madden: No one knows when TJ Watt will return, but Steelers have options in the meantime


The truth about TJ Watt’s injury is we still don’t know.

It has been reported that Watt’s pectoral injury does not require surgery, just rehabilitation. Watt will miss six games. It’s not official. This is not confirmed by the Steelers.

If Watt does indeed play again on October 30 in Philadelphia, will he be 100%? Will his pec be vulnerable to further injury? So what will the Steelers’ record be?

I think the Steelers start 4-3 or 3-4. They will definitely beat New England next Sunday and go 2-0. The Patriots are a mess.

Malik Reed will fill in as Edge rusher in Watt’s absence. Reed says he won’t try to be Watt.

Reed should try just that. Give it a shot. Don’t lower the bar.

In 2001, during Mario Lemieux’s comeback season, teammate Jan Hrdina was knocked out in a crash. Jaromir Jagr was told: “(Hrdina) doesn’t know who he is.” Jagr replied, “Tell him he’s Mario.”


• Steelers coach Mike Tomlin optimistic TJ Watt injury won’t end season
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Assuming Reed can’t be Watt, it might help if Devin Bush could be Devin Bush. The player the Steelers traded for the 10th overall pick in 2019.

Bush looked a bit like that guy on Sunday, not the Xerox of a Xerox he was especially since he tore his ACL in 2020. Bush played aggressively, got stuck in blocks and made five tackles. Bush must have even more impact, but at least he started.

Myles Jack was solid. Coach Mike Tomlin called him a “24/7 linebacker,” which must be tough on his furniture, family and friends.

Alex Highsmith had a career-high three sacks at Cincinnati. That’s half of what he totaled last season. Can Highsmith continue to rise without Watt to get the opposition’s main attention? (Highsmith’s dad, Sam, chided me on Twitter when I wondered. Aw, dad, not in front of the guys.)

The defense will still be strong without Watt. But it can’t be that good. The Steelers won’t win that much. If it were possible, Watt would be overpaid.

That said, some decent components are there. Some intriguing possibilities.

There is a good deep rotation on the defensive line. Lots of OK defensive backs. Arthur Maulet becomes the old role of Mike Hilton. The lightning slots corner.

Steelers Nation prayed for Watt. You’ve seen this everywhere.

Watt is healed, praise Jesus! Well, on the mend, anyway.

But Watt did not lose a limb. He doesn’t need an organ transplant. He is not on life support. He doesn’t have bubonic plague. He’s 27, in his prime, and paid $24 million this season even though he doesn’t play another snap.

There is no need to pray for Watt. A football team’s record doesn’t seem big enough to ask for God’s help. But go ahead and sacrifice a live chicken.

Watt asked for a second opinion. The doctor said, “Your offensive line stinks.” I LOVE THIS CROWD!

There are a lot of lies to be told between now and Watt’s return.

In Dallas, quarterback Dak Prescott required thumb surgery. The injury normally takes 6-8 weeks of recovery time, but fanboy owner Jerry Jones says Prescott will be back in four. Why? Just because, basically.

Jones sells hope. To his locker room and his fan base. There’s likely an element of that with the reported prognosis for Watt.

The NFL literati all chimed in. Ian Rapoport is the screenplay at the start of this column. Adam Schefter said Watt was out for the season. Mike Florio said 3-4 weeks.

Watt’s injury has not changed during the timeline of this report. There was guessing. There was a leak. Being right is not as important as being first.

It was as if a head of state was on his deathbed. He’s getting better. He is worse. He will recover. He is dead. It was minute by minute.

Pittsburgh might be under siege like Leningrad, but the main story of the three local newscasts would be Watt’s injury.

Watt will return when he returns. It’s not the first, nor sexy. Just precise.


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