Cardinals’ J.J. Watt like a ‘dog chasing a tennis ball’ in Monday’s return

Aug 23, 2021, 6:56 PM | Updated: 8:03 pm
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JULY 30: JJ Watt #99 of the Arizona Cardinals talks to Chandler Jones #55 durin...
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JULY 30: JJ Watt #99 of the Arizona Cardinals talks to Chandler Jones #55 during training camp at State Farm Stadium on July 30, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

GLENDALE — After nearly a month on the PUP list, Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt was out on the practice field to kick off the final week of training camp.

Outside of July’s conditioning test, Monday marked the first time he was out there in uniform with the rest of the team.

It was easy to feel Watt’s excitement both on and off the field, even with the expectation of him being eased back into things.

“I was only supposed to do individual,” Watt said with a smile after practice. “Part of the challenge is easing yourself back in and trusting it. … You’re like a dog chasing a tennis ball. Wherever it bounces you want to get it and you’re so excited to be out there and it doesn’t matter if you’re supposed to go where it bounces, you’re just going for it.

“And that’s what it felt like today, you’re just so excited to be out there and excited to be playing with the guys and it was a lot of fun.”

The Cardinals have sat back and waited as Watt worked his way back to 100%. They wanted to be sure he was fully healthy before letting him loose this training camp.

The impact his presence brings is a valuable asset for a defense reloaded with offseason additions and looking to make a name for itself.

“It’s definitely a plus. He’s played in this system before so we know he knows it,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said before Monday’s practice. “Just his intensity, his focus, his attention to detail on the practice field will be great for our defense and our entire team.”

But it’s not only what Watt brings on the field, it’s the manner in which he conducts himself off the field that has those around the organization talking.

Rehabbing or not, Watt could be seen throughout camp talking with young defensive linemen like Zach Allen, among others. The two were quick to strike up a relationship, with Allen seeking advice on certain plays or just picking Watt’s brain on why he went with a swim move in a game three years ago, for example.

Watt may have been sidelined, but he took that time to dive into building relationships with his new teammates. And if anything, the down time gave him a good perspective of what this team’s makeup is.

“Those are the guys that you love. Chandler’s very similar. He knows every play, every sack I think I ever had in my career. … When you got guys like that that love the game, that just have that craving for knowledge, it’s so much fun to come to work every day, because everybody wants to get better,” Watt said.

“You got Budda on the backend asking me, ‘Hey if they do this, I’m going to tell you this.’ It’s not like that everywhere. It’s rare and it’s special and I think that’s what makes it so fun to come here every day because you know your work is worth it.”

And just how much players like Allen can glean off of Watt could, in turn, save some tread on the veteran’s regular-season tires.

Watt may have seen 1,013 snaps in his final season with the Houston Texans, but that isn’t quite what the Cardinals have in mind for one of their top offseason adds.

While the thought of not being out there for every play despite being healthy is there, quality over quantity appears to be Watt’s mentality in his first year as a Cardinal. And his mind will be a whole lot more at ease with able bodies lining up in his place.

“I think I played like 97-98% of the snaps last year, I think most of my healthy years I’ve been over 1,000 snaps so I think it would be beneficial to cut some of those back a little bit,” Watt said.

“Part of it is just the game gets rolling, personal pride kicks in … but then there’s also the part of being smart and understanding that it’s a long season, it’s a long game and you need to be in there for the right situations. I think when you have capable guys behind you who are capable of stepping in and making plays you’re much more comfortable to do that.”

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