J.J. Watt is back.
The NFL's hardest-working defensive end descended from his perch on Hustle Mountain to give a declaration on Wednesday, speaking to the media for the first time in a long while. Watt was placed on injured reserve back in September for a back injury and missed almost the entire 2016 season. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year underwent surgery for the second time in just a matter of months.
- Scout's Notebook: Cam must evolve as QB
- Free Agency's biggest unanswered storylines
- Harrison: All-Under-25 Team
- Brandt: Best second-round picks since '12
- MJD: Ranking the '17 RB prospects
- Players who won free agency
- Brooks: Peterson 'just another' RB now
- Schein: Each division's favorite, top contender
- Rosenthal Why is everyone ignoring Big Ben?
- Scouting Report/team fits: Malik Hooker
But Watt says that is behind him now. After some strange periods in his career where he mulled an early end, the former first-round pick seems re-energized. He told the assembled media that he was cleared for football activities and does not see an issue with reporting to organized team activities in the spring.
"There's a brand new fire, a new passion. There are new levels to reach I haven't reached yet," Watt said, via the Texans' official Twitter account. "Trying to be the best player ever."
He added: "When the thing you love is taken away from you, you really appreciate what you've missed."
At this point, he says he's reached the end of a rehab cycle and can now continue his regular offseason training.
"From this point forward, my offseason is a regular offseason with full training," he said. "I feel very good knowing I have many months ahead."
This is obviously good news for the Texans, though I would caution fans envisioning an unstoppable force now that Jadeveon Clowney has started to realize his full potential. Part of Clowney's emergence was due in part to Watt's absence and the way Houston sprinkled Whitney Mercilus throughout the defense. Watt will resume is place as the team's defensive anchor, which means a new set of challenges for recently-promoted defensive coordinator Mike Vrable to keep everyone happy.
Given the way Houston was playing down the stretch, it would have been interesting to see what they would have done against New England in the playoffs with Watt in the lineup. The game, for large stretches, was much closer than the score indicated. Houston's defense had New England on its heels.
With their quarterback situation perpetually in limbo, adding more star power to the defense is never a bad thing. Even without Vince Wilfork in the fold, Houston should be projected as a top five defense with limitless potential coming into next season thanks in large part to Watt. Will his quest to become the best player ever run alongside a trip deep into the playoffs?