I spent all of last week in West Virginia, taking in some sub-80-degree temps while watching the 2017 version of the Houston Texans prepare for the upcoming NFL season. I had (and still have) several observations, some of which I've shared here, and more that I'll share in my next version of the 53-man roster, which will drop Tuesday.
But there is one thing I can tell you with unequivocal certainty — J.J. Watt is back (and I can't tell you how nice it is to use Watt's name and the word "back" in a sentence that doesn't also include the words "herniated disk in his").
Granted, we've only seen Watt practice on a normal veteran's practice schedule, which is to say he has had a few management-granted days off already this training camp. (The Texans, as a team, have practiced ten times at training camp, as of Sunday.) However, when he has practiced, there have been zero limitations. He does all the drills, and when the team has been in pads, he is out there with the first team.
Once we got the "How would the Texans handle Watt in practice?" question answered, the big question was always going to be "How would Watt be used in games, if he would even be used at all?" On Saturday, we got our answer from Texans head coach Bill O'Brien. O'Brien was first asked if he had figured out who was going to play on Wednesday night against the Carolina Panthers, to which he answered:
“Everybody that’s able to play in the game, will play in the game. Obviously, we’ll talk about it as a staff, how much everybody plays. You know you got 90 guys, or thereabouts. You have injuries. So, 80-plus guys that you have to get into the game. A lot of guys, everybody, you need to evaluate. So, not everybody will play the whole game, obviously, but everybody that’s able to play will play in the game.”
Then came the follow-up — would J.J. Watt play?
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There had been a thought, and with some even HOPE, that O'Brien would bubble-wrap Watt until Sunday, September 10, the first game of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but I think playing Watt using a normal ramp-up to the regular season is the right approach. The bottom line is this — if Watt's back can't hold up to a normal preseason workload, then it will certainly be an issue in the regular season, and you'd rather know your regular season issues as early as possible.
In the meantime now, Texans fans will finally get their first glimpse of something for which they've waited three seasons — a fully healthy J.J. Watt next to a fully healthy, peak-performance Jadeveon Clowney on the same defensive line. It should be quite a show.
The show kicks off 6:30 p.m. local time Wednesday night.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.