J.J. Watt had more back surgeries than sacks last season. The Texans’ star looked more like himself in the second preseason game last week.
The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year stopped New England running back Rex Burkhead in the backfield on the fifth play of the game for Houston’s defense. It was his first solo tackle since Sept. 18, 2016.
“Yeah, it’s a great feeling,” Watt said. “It’s just a glimpse. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been working on a very long time. There’s a lot of plays that I’ve built up in the archives that I want to get out there and make.”
The Texans beat the Patriots 27-23 on Saturday night. They lost to the Carolina Panthers 27-17 in the first preseason game on Aug. 9 when Watt was on the field for just a short time and didn’t record any stats.
“Last game was a bit of a tease to get out there for only one series, but we all understand the plan, we all understand what the angle is,” Watt said. “I’m perfectly fine with it, but my body feels great. My mind feels great. I love being able to come to work each day and get better.”
The biggest priority for head coach Bill O’Brien is to make sure the key players stay healthy for the regular season opener against the Jaguars on Sept. 10.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney didn’t play in the second preseason game against the Patriots. Players like Watt and some of the other key pieces will have even less impact in the third game and won’t see the field in the preseason finale against the Cowboys.
“I think it’s important that they still prepare for the game, they warm up for the game, they get their juices flowing so they’re ready like they will be for a game, and then they play a little bit,” O’Brien said. “They get in there, there’s contact. It’s live and there’s tackling.”
The Texans are a team with an even mix of experience and youth. Along with the 25 rookies on the squad, they boast returning starters at every position except for right tackle, where a battle between Kendall Lamm and Breno Giacomini is ongoing.
Houston had an opportunity to gain some chemistry with each other when they kicked off training camp in West Virginia two weeks ago. The team spent more than 14 days at The Greenbrier before returning to Houston on Friday, where they will finish up camp.
Watt said everybody in the locker room is rooting for each other and gets really gets excited when another teammate makes a big catch or tackle. The preseason trip only added to the affinity.
“Yeah, it was really good for us,” he said. “We have a really, really good group of guys. I think we have guys who truly care about each other. We love each other and we love playing with each other so it makes it fun.”
Watt is the unquestioned leader of the defense and it’s no coincidence that two of the veteran’s biggest years coincided with two of the Texans’ four playoff appearances in team history.
He has just got his feet wet and he’s looking forward to a big resurgence this season, even if he didn’t expect how stressful it would be to stand on the sidelines.
“Staying on the sidelines is a lot more tiring than I thought it was, Watt said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun this year. Our defense is a blast to play in. This team is a lot of fun. The offense did a good job, so when you put it all together, we are a lot of fun.”