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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The last thing Texans defensive end J.J. Watt would be is vain.
It just doesn’t fit his small town, Wisconsin-bred image.
But while most have been impressed with the added muscle weight the second-year player has put on in the offseason, Watt admits the addition isn’t only about readying his body for the rigors of a long NFL season.
“I tried to sculpt a little bit this offseason,” he said. “I know that sounds weird.”
Whatever was Watt’s motivation, he seems to be getting results on the practice field where he has appeared to be quicker and even more explosive than he was during a strong rookie season. The concern with additional weight is always the potential loss in quickness but that doesn’t seem to be an issue at all for the 6-foot-5, 288-pound Watt.
“I feel unbelievable, I feel like I am in the best shape of my life,” Watt said. “I feel bigger, stronger and faster than I have ever been so I am real excited to use that this year.”
You can attribute his improved body to a better diet and better eating habits, which are a byproduct of living off a NFL salary. Coming out of Wisconsin last year, Watts had learned to get by on noodles and fast food – anything to make his scholarship stretch a little farther.
“The one thing about the NFL is you can afford to eat real healthy food and do those types of things,” Watt said. “In college you had to go off what you could get, but now I can afford to eat real healthy and get my body in great shape.”
And that is going to be critical if Watt is going to take what he did last season to a much higher level now that he has had an actual offseason of nutrition and conditioning under Texans watch after last year’s NFL lockout.
Watt, who started all 16 games last season, was one of the most productive rookies in the NFL last season. He finished the year with 56 tackles and 5.5 sacks and he seemed to really come on during the playoffs with his signature moment coming in the Wildcard when the Texans seized the momentum with his 29-yard touchdown interception at the line of scrimmage against the Cincinnati Bengals.
But as good as Watt was last season, the Texans are expecting even bigger things out of their former first round draft pick this season.
“Just pick up where he left off,” Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said of what he would like to see of Watt this season. “The guy played better than everybody the last two games, I thought. I mean, he had (14) tackles, (four) tackles for loss and (three) and a half sacks in the last two games against two playoff teams and dominated the line of scrimmage. I think he will, because he’s worked hard at it, I think he’ll just continue to go from there.”
His continued progress will be crucial in the Texans defensive front taking another step toward becoming one of the most dominant units in the NFL this season. Defensive end Antonio Smith and Watt will again be the beneficiaries of the outside pressure Phillips’ 3-4 scheme brings with its outside linebackers.
Watt certainly seems ready with his much improved hands, foot place and technique to go along with the increased body mass.
“Yeah, I would definitely say that’s true,” Watt said of the talk about his improved hand work. “I think overall the things like that are the things I’m going to gain the most this year. I can focus on those little things–hand placement, footwork–those things. And at the end of the day, that’s what takes you from good to great, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Last season Watt was good even though he was learning to play in the NFL on the fly. A lot of times it just seemed like his raw talent and natural instinct for the game took over during the times when his knowledge of the game was outmatched.
“Last year was one of those feel it out situations,” Watt said. “I needed to learn how to pass rush in the NFL and what worked for me and my personal style. As the season progressed I started to hone in on certain things and I think that’s why I got so much better at the end of the year and why I am going to become so much more successful this year.”
Already Watt can sense the difference not just in his physical ability but in his overall understanding of the game and his role in the defense.
“I feel a lot better, I understand the playbook a lot better so now I can just focus on my game,” he said.”I’m just real excited about some of things I am going to be able to use by the end of this year.”