Texans defensive end J.J. Watt shining brightly
BY SEAN JENSEN email@example.com November 10, 2012 12:14AM
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has become one of the most disruptive forces in the NFL. | Getty Images
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:29AM
The accolades, records and expectations don’t faze Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
A native of Pewaukee, Wis., Watt started his college career at Central Michigan, dropped out and delivered pizzas before realizing playing football wasn’t so bad after all. He enrolled at Wisconsin, redshirted, then shined in two seasons before skipping his senior season, declaring for the NFL draft and being selected 11th overall by the Texans in 2011.
‘‘I was a late bloomer in general,’’ Watt said, noting he had a two-inch growth spurt in college. ‘‘Then another part was, I made a lot of changes.’’
A quarterback until his junior year in high school, Watt started as a tight end in college before switching to defensive end. That raises a scary thought.
‘‘I’m still learning, and I still have a long way to go,’’ he said.
After posting 5½ sacks during his rookie season, Watt made a name for himself with 3½ sacks in two playoff games. He also had a ridiculously athletic interception he returned 29 yards for a touchdown in a 31-10 playoff rout of the Cincinnati Bengals.
This season, Watt leads the league with 10½ sacks and is being hailed as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Is he intimidated?
‘‘No, I love it; I relish it,’’ he said emphatically. ‘‘If you want to be the best, if you want to be the greatest, you always want people to look to you in a situation.
‘‘It’s my goal to do things that have never been done before. That takes a lot of hard work. Any great athlete will tell you that they love that opportunity.’’
Last season, Watt’s goal was to help the Texans win games. This season, he has stepped in to replace defensive end Mario Williams, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who signed a massive free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills. Watt recently was named one of the Texans’ captains.
Watt has one of the cooler nicknames in the league: J.J. Swat. It’s an homage to his penchant for batting down passes. He has deflected 10 of them this season.
‘‘It’s something I’ve practiced a long time,’’ he said. ‘‘My goal every play is to have an impact. I understand I can’t get a sack on every play. But if I can’t do that, then my goal is to try and knock the ball down.’’
Given his candor, I asked Watt if he has watched the Bears’ offensive line and dreamed about a monster performance.
‘‘I look at every game the same,’’ he said blandly. ‘‘Every single game, there are opportunities to make plays. I don’t discriminate against any quarterback, any offensive line. I treat them all the same.’’
The NFL does a lot to protect offensive players, which is understandable. Some would argue the league does so to protect quarterbacks, who generally are the most marketable players.
But the same consideration should be given to defensive players, many of whom are becoming stars in their own right.
Cut blocks are something that should be banned immediately.
Texans middle linebacker Brian Cushing suffered a season-ending knee injury when he was cut by Jets guard Matt Slauson about a month ago.
The league reviewed the play and fined Slauson $10,000, which meant little to a Texans team that lost one of its best players.
‘‘The thing that makes me mad is the cut blocks,’’ Urlacher said, noting that teammate Israel Idonije missed some time last Sunday because of the same type of block. ‘‘We can’t hit in the head. We can’t barely tackle anyone.
‘‘A concussion, he might be out for a week or two. But if you lose your knee, you’re out for a season or maybe longer. It’s very frustrating.’’
Bears receiver Brandon Marshall not only is on pace to break numerous team records, but he also is coming up with ‘‘clutch catches,’’ according to STATS.
STATS defines ‘‘clutch catches’’ as receptions on third or fourth down that result in a first down or touchdown.
The league leader is Reggie Wayne with 17. Marshall and Dwayne Bowe are next with 16.