Steelers Announce Change to TJ Watt’s Status vs. Bengals

TJ Watt

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On Friday Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt left the door “open” in terms of his chances of playing on Sunday vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. Less than 24 hours later the team slammed that door closed, with Steelers Director of Communications Burt Lauten delivering the news via Twitter:

Watt suffered a groin injury during the second quarter of last Sunday’s home loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. He was limited in practice throughout this past week.

Alex Highsmith Also Ruled Out

With second-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith previously ruled out with his groin injury, the Steelers will be starting backups at both edge positions. On one side will be veteran free agent acquisition Melvin Ingram III, 32, a three-time Pro Bowler who remains a very effective pass rusher and run stopper but can be readily exposed in pass coverage. On the other side, former undrafted free agent Jamir Jones will be making his first NFL start, with just 16 defensive snaps under his belt to this point in his career.

Jones has come a long way since the spring, when he was (re)discovered by Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin at Notre Dame’s 2021 Pro Day. By signing with the Steelers, Jones was able to escape working 9-to-5, having been employed by Champs Sports and other retail establishments.

Who Will Back Up Melvin Ingram and Jamir Jones?

On Saturday afternoon the Steelers elevated Derrek Tuszka from the practice squad to the active roster, so he figures to serve as the primary backup at outside linebacker.

The Steelers also have former first-round pick Taco Charlton on the practice squad. But Charlton was signed on Sept. 21 and may not be ready to serve as a depth option for another week or two.

Famously, Charlton was selected No. 28 overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2017 NFL Draft, two spots before the Steelers drafted T.J. Watt. But he has experienced modest success in the NFL, especially as compared to Watt.

Charlton is already on his fourth team, having played two years with the Cowboys, one season with the Miami Dolphins and seven games for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020. According to Pro Football Reference, he has 44 games of NFL experience (12 starts), and has recorded 74 total tackles with 11 sacks, 20 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.

Meanwhile, Watt has developed into a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and is now the highest paid defender in the league.

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Mike Hilton Returns to Heinz Field

Sunday’s game (Sept. 26, 1 p.m. ET) will be the first time that former Steelers slot cornerback Mike Hilton will be going against his old teammates. Hilton signed a four-year, $24 million contract with the Bengals in March 2021. Earlier this week, he revealed his picks for the top trash talkers on the Steelers.

Cincinnati’s active roster also features former Steelers offensive tackle Fred Johnson, who is the backup at right tackle. The Bengals claimed Johnson when the Steelers waived him in October 2019, and he has since appeared in 18 games for Cincinnati.

Also, Cincinnati recently added former Steelers safety Sean Davis to its practice squad, just one day after Davis had his contract terminated by the Colts.

Both teams come into the AFC North showdown with 1-1 records. Meanwhile, the Browns (1-1) will be hosting the Chicago Bears, while the Ravens (1-1) play the Lions in Detroit.

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