HOUSTON (AP) — J.J. Watt was so good last season that Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called it the “best season ever” for a defensive lineman.
So what will last season’s defensive player of the year do for an encore?
“I’m going to be better,” he said as the Texans reported for training camp Thursday. “Just watch.”
It will be hard to top what he did last season, just his second in the NFL. He led the league with 20 sacks, had 81 tackles, four forced fumbles and defended 16 passes.
Watt spent time this offseason doing what many would find to be a mundane task. He watched video of each of his games, not once but “over and over and over again.” He wanted to pinpoint things he missed and find ways he could improve.
“There’s sacks I missed here and there,” he said. “There’s a couple of plays in the run game I missed here and there, some balls that could have been batted that weren’t batted. Little things. I’m always looking at the little things. You have to be your harshest critic and I’m by far my harshest critic and I have by far the highest expectations out of anyone in the entire world.”
Speaking of critics, Watt is annoyed that many have said he won’t be able to replicate the success he had in 2012.
“Why not? Why not? Don’t sit here and tell me what I can and can’t do,” Watt said.
He also finds it funny when people question whether he’ll succeed once teams make adjustments to account for him. He said adjustments were made last year that involved everything from double and triple teams to chip blocks.
“If you want to focus all your attention on me, a) it’s not guaranteed to work and b) you have to worry about the 10 other guys on the field with me,” he said. “And I’m very fortunate to have 10 great other players on the field with me. I’m also not going to give up just because I’ve got three or four guys on me. I’m going to get that sack.”
He’s enjoyed the fame he’s gained from his work on the field and related stories about his delight at seeing pictures of fans wearing his jersey in places as far away as Japan. He loves Houston and the support he receives everywhere he goes, even if it is a little overwhelming at times. He said his plan to go out for breakfast on Thursday morning was foiled because he “can’t take two steps without” people asking for autographs or pictures.
Considering the speed of his rise to stardom, the 24-year-old is very aware that it could all go away at any moment. That, he says is one of the things that drives him to improve.
This year, he’s excited to play with ball-hawking safety Ed Reed and about the return of linebacker Brian Cushing from knee surgery.
Reed had surgery to repair a partly torn labrum on April 30 and it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to play. He wasn’t available on Thursday, but Andre Johnson, who has been close with Reed since the two played together at Miami, provided an update.
“He feels like he’s ahead of schedule,” Johnson said. “He said he’s feeling fine and he’ll be ready to go for opening day.”
Watt, who earned the moniker J.J. Swatt for his knack for batting down passes, has grand plans for how Reed, a nine-time Pro Bowler, can help complement his game.
“I hope we’re going to the end zone many, many times,” Watt said. “Ed and I talk about it all the time. I want to be tipping him interceptions all the time.”
Watt has noticed a different focus among the team than it had at the beginning of the season and believes it is partly due to the disappointing way Houston finished the regular season. The Texans began the season 11-1 before losing three of their last four regular-season games, which cost them bye week and home-field advantage in playoffs.
“We definitely didn’t play up to our potential at the end of the season last year,” he said. “We just didn’t finish the season strong and that’s what we need to do.”
Houston won the AFC South title and its first-round playoff game in each of the last two seasons before losing in the divisional round. That kind of performance is unacceptable to Watt this year.
“Division championships that’s cool, but that’s old news. First-round playoff wins — cool — but that’s old news,” he said. “We have one singular goal.”