Texans' J.J. Watt determined not to let injuries change his game

"We control the things we can control and then you go out there and you play and you just let it fly and obviously hope for the best," J.J. Watt said. Greg M. Cooper-USA Today Sports

HOUSTON -- J.J. Watt has heard your whispers.

He has seen the questions you've had about whether he can return to his All-Pro form after two back surgeries, whether he can play as hard as he did in his first five NFL seasons with the Houston Texans.

"I see them all," Watt said. "I know them all. I've heard them all. You hear doubters. You hear everything. I've heard everything from 'You get constantly injured' and things like that. This is the first games I've ever missed this last season. It's not like I've been hurt every single year. It's not like it's been some over and over and over again thing."

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year knows the danger of playing with the worry or the fear of getting injured again. He knows, he said Monday at NRG Stadium, that if he doesn't play the way he has played in the past, he will not be as successful.

"If I'm out there trying to second-guess myself, if I'm out there wondering if I'm good enough, then I'm not going to be good anywhere, so there's no point in going out there and playing," Watt said. "All I can do is give it everything I have every single day, whether it's practice, meetings or film. 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 I know how to play it, with energy, with enthusiasm, with excitement, rallying around teammates, having a lot of fun. Just enjoying football again.

"If something happens, it happens. But all I can do is play as smart and play as hard as I possibly can and try to be the best teammate I can be for these guys. And that's all I am going to do. Because that's the only way I know how to play."

Changes to how he prepares for the season started last year, when he was coming off January surgeries to his abdominal muscles and groin. And after two back surgeries in 2016, Watt had to continue to tweak those plans, knowing that continuing to work too hard could be harmful in the end. In February, Watt admitted that he came back too soon from his first back surgery, and that played a big factor in aggravating the injury in late September and needing a second back surgery two months after the initial procedure.

Watt said he plans to limit his reps throughout the upcoming season -- something he says he'll lean on the Texans' coaching and training staff to manage. By limiting his reps during practice or workouts, Watt hopes he can be smarter about how he uses his body.

Throughout last season, Texans coach Bill O'Brien and everyone who had contact with Watt said that although he absolutely missed football, he was slowly getting back to being himself physically, and that he would be back better than ever for the 2017 season. In February, Watt reiterated that himself, stressing that he was back to his normal offseason schedule and that he would be ready for the Texans' mid-April organizational team activities.

Now Watt feels like he's moving ever closer to being 100 percent, even though he acknowledged that because it's the offseason, and because he hasn't played in an NFL game since Sept. 22, he still has "plenty of time to improve and grow." And though there are changes and improvements Watt said he can make to ensure he's in the best position possible to stay healthy, he's not going to change everything about how he got to where he is: perhaps one of the best defensive players in NFL history at age 28.

"I've learned a lot and I've really talked to so many people and kind of created a program and a plan where I can get the results I want without necessarily putting myself at risk in those situations," Watt said. "But what it comes down to, is you have to build confidence both in yourself, and your team obviously. And the only way you can do that is by putting in the work and putting in the time.

"You can never fake confidence. You can't bulls--- yourself into thinking that you're good enough when you know for a fact that you didn't put in the work, that you didn't put in the time. So for me, that's where it all comes down to: making sure that I put in that time. Making sure that I put in that effort so that when I step on that field, I know for a fact that I can step out there confident and strong and I can go out and dominate because I put in the work. There's nothing to be worried about when you put in the work. The only time you have to be nervous or anxious for a game is when you didn't put in the work and you're hoping you're good enough. That's not a situation I would want to be in."