HOUSTON -- It's been a taxing year for J.J. Watt's body.
Thursday's news that Watt had back surgery comes seven months after the conclusion of a very painful season for the Houston Texans defensive end. It ended with Watt on the sideline, watching his team lose 30-0 to Kansas City in the playoffs as he tried in vain to get the team trainer to let him back into the game. Then came surgery to repair five torn muscles in his core area and a recovery during which he was unable to walk at first. The broken hand he played with and the herniated disk in his back were considered minor by comparison.
That he'll play at the start of the season is no guarantee. After all, seven weeks isn't a long time to recover from back surgery and be back to football shape.
Pain is a reality of being an NFL player, and even with it, Watt has been transcendent. That's why, despite everything the 27-year-old has gone through in the past 12 months, despite the 2016 regular season being seven weeks away, there's still optimism about Watt's condition.
Watt's track record has earned him the benefit of the doubt. He has played in all 80 regular-season games since the Texans drafted him 11th overall in 2011. He's had double-digit sacks in four of those seasons, and more than 20 twice.
And he's done that through plenty of pain.
Before the 2012 season, Watt suffered an elbow injury that led to the elbow brace he still wears today. During the 2014 season, he played against the Buffalo Bills with a bruise covering his entire upper leg. When he missed a practice with an unidentified groin injury last season, I asked about it and he dismissed the idea that a mere physical ailment could prevent him from playing.
Now that back surgery has landed him on the physically unable to perform list and he will miss the preseason, it's worth wondering if he is entering a period when his body becomes less than cooperative. Football's brutality doesn't spare even the greatest to play the game.
But until we see that, Watt deserves the benefit of the doubt. He deserves optimism because he's earned it.