Star J.J. Watt 'just so excited' to make long-awaited training camp debut with Arizona Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury knew before J.J. Watt took the field Monday for his first training camp practice with the Arizona Cardinals that the three-time defensive player of the year was going to try to push the limits and play more than he was scheduled to.

That's exactly what happened.

Watt made his training camp debut in front of empty stands now that practices are closed to the public. He was only supposed to take part in individual drills but those guidelines went by the wayside as practice continued.

"That's part of the challenge, is easing yourself back in and trusting it," Watt said. "Somebody just asked how I felt and I was like, 'Like a dog chasing a tennis ball.' You're just like, wherever it bounces you want to get it and you're so excited to be out there and, like, it doesn't matter if you're supposed to go where 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."

Watt began his first practice by leading the defensive line in a drill involving running over bags. From there, he took part in sled drills before the team period began.

The plan during camp was for Watt to take his recovery slowly after suffering a hamstring injury during the conditioning test on the day the Cardinals reported to camp.

"We wanted to make sure we were really cautious, make sure he felt 100 percent before we got him back out there," Kingsbury said during his news conference before practice.

Said Watt: "We definitely took our time."

Watt said he doesn't need the preseason games to know his body is ready to play in the regular season, a feeling he's developed during his first 10 seasons in the NFL.

"I've been in a lot of football games, I've been in a lot of situations, so I know what my body needs to be ready for Game 1," he said. "I don't think the preseason games are one of those things that are absolutely necessary for me."

But Watt has stayed engaged.

He's played in a version of the Cardinals' defense in the past so he came to Arizona with a familiarity of the scheme. He's also been in the daily meetings, studying and watching film.

"So, no worries there," he said.

The next step for Watt is to get reps with the other first-team defenders -- especially young inside linebackers Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons -- in part to learn their tendencies and to figure out if "we're all seeing the plays the same way."

Watt spent the first two preseason games helping younger players at times when he felt it was needed and encouraging them other times.

With the regular season less than three weeks away, Watt is open to seeing his snaps reduced this season.

Watt has played more than 900 snaps in five of his 10 seasons. He's played at least 741 snaps in every season he's appeared in all 16 games, which he's managed seven times but just twice in the last five seasons. He's coming off a full 16-game season in 2020 in which he played 978 snaps.

"I think it would be beneficial to be able to cut some of those back a little bit," Watt said. "I mean, part of it is, just, the game gets rolling, you feel like, personal pride kicks in and you're like, 'I need to be out there and I want to go out there and make the plays,' 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 situation.

"So, I think that when you have capable guys behind you who are capable of stepping in and making plays that you're much more comfortable to do that."