Two of the Texans’ best pass rushers are getting back to football shape.
J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney have been easing back into reps after getting injured during the regular season last year. Watt especially is hoping to get some live reps when Houston opens its preseason schedule Thursday night in Kansas City.
“Practices are huge and I’ll definitely need some live reps before the regular season,” Watt said. “That’s more about what the coaching staff wants. It doesn’t need to be a lot, but I think it’s important to see some live bullets before you go out there and have guys flying at you for real.
Clowney hasn’t been a full participant in practice after having arthroscopic knee surgery that saw him miss the entire offseason.
Watt has been battling through injuries the last two seasons, including back problems in 2016 and a broken leg last season suffered early last season that has limited his playing time to just eight games over that span.
“I have a better understanding on what my body needs,” Watt said. “I wanted to come to camp in good condition so I can focus on my technique. Over the course of the summer, I started to feel really good. Every week, I’d push it further.”
After combining for at least 76 tackles and recording at least 10.5 sacks in four straight years from 2012-2015, Watt has made just 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks in the last two years.
“J.J. has come back in great shape and he’s doing really well,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got a good plan for him getting him ready for the season. He understands it and he’s doing a really good job.”
Clowney has been training alone on the side of the field during the first couple weeks of camp.
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said playing time in the first preseason game is determined by how reps go in practice and there is a lot more that goes into making a decision on playing time than even 10 years ago.
“(Clowney is) trying to work back to football shape and when we feel like he’s in football shape, we’ll put him on the field,” O’Brien said. "A lot of guys have gotten good reps in these practices. It’s a very competitive roster so we’ll make some decisions later this week.”
Another Houston player getting back to football shape is Deshaun Watson, who tore his ACL late last season. Then a rookie, he lit the league on fire, passing for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven regular season games.
Watt said he’s starting to get some of the explosiveness back, but he hasn’t forgotten the athletic quarterback had surgery when facing off on the field.
“I don’t ever forget that because I was in there every day with him,” Watt said. “He does look great and I’m excited to see him play on the field again in a real game. To come into a training camp with a guy you know if the No. 1, we haven’t had that in a while.”
When the Texans and Chiefs go against each other on Thursday, Kansas City will have a new starting quarterback in former Texas Tech gunslinger Patrick Mahomes, who made just one start last season but took over after Alex Smith was traded to Washington in the offseason.
O’Brien had a few meetings with the Tyler, Texas-native known for his powerful arm before he was drafted in the first round in 2017.
“We thought very highly of him, he’s a smart guy with good energy,” O’Brien said. “We had good meetings with him. I haven’t followed him that closely because when we played them last year, Smith was the starter. I’m sure he’s doing a great job.”