HOUSTON (AP) — J.J. Watt is more than a little antsy.
After not playing football since Sept. 22, the Houston Texans star was more excited than anyone for the start of offseason workouts Monday.
Sure, those workouts were simply conditioning and a chance to reconnect with teammates after the offseason. But after missing games for the first time in his six-year NFL career last season while recovering from back surgery, Watt relished the day.
“You’re away from the game for a year, like I’ve said many, many times before, it reaffirms how much you love it, how passionate you are about it, how badly you want to go out and play with your teammates and just enjoy the game,” Watt said. “I can’t wait.”
Watt, who was NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and `15, missed training camp and Houston’s four preseason games after surgery in July to repair a herniated disk. The defensive end started the team’s first three regular-season games before reinjuring his back and undergoing season-ending surgery.
He’s healthy now, and although the season is still almost five months away, he’s already envisioning being back on the field.
“My body feels really good, so I’m really looking forward to this whole offseason process and OTAs and just getting back to just playing football,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. I just want to play football. I can’t wait to get back out there and play some ball.”
Watt is a workout freak and has acknowledged he sometimes would do too much in his preparation for the season at the expense of his health. Now he’s learned that such tactics aren’t healthy and even though he wants to make sure he’s ready when the season begins, he’s learned to be smarter about his workouts.
“I need to make sure that I balance myself and not get overly crazy in the offseason and things like that,” he said. “So I think it’s been a really good time for me.”
Watt enjoyed watching Houston’s defense thrive last year despite his absence. He raved about the work the unit did in finishing the season ranked first in yards allowed. A big factor in the group’s success was the emergence of 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
“It was a lot of fun to watch,” Watt said. “He obviously played very well and I think our whole defense played very well, and those guys — it was a lot of fun to watch them play, see them grow throughout the year, see them overcome a lot of adversity.”
Though no one questions that Watt has established himself as one of the top defensive players in the NFL, some wonder if he’ll be the same force who piled up 76 sacks. Watt has heard those whispers following two back surgeries, but doesn’t spend any time worrying about what outsiders think about him.
“All I can do is give it everything I have every single day, whether it’s practice, meetings, or film,” he said. “I’m going to give it everything I have. I’m going to go out there, I’m going to have fun. I’m going to play the game the way I know how to play it, with energy, with enthusiasm, with excitement, rallying around teammates, having a lot of fun. Just enjoying football again.”