Three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt had surgery to repair a herniated disc, which means Watt will open training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP). We can all speculate on the timetables for recovery, but Watt is the only one who truly knows. Based on the history of recovery from such an injury, he is projected to miss as much as 8-10 weeks, which includes the entire preseason and possibly a regular season game or four on top of that, depending on how his body heals. We all hope that Watt has a speedy recovery, and in the back of our mind, we honestly expect it.
Recovery will be yet another challenge for a guy who seems to be addicted to, well, obliterating challenges. Watt will be just fine. Trust me. If the Chicago Bears or Kansas City Chiefs are planning to enjoy a visit to NRG Stadium without having to deal with "99 problems," they're sadly mistaken. I say that the big guy will be ready to play Week One, and he will torment those offensive lines as he typically does.
On the surface, the injury report and recovery timetable seem like pretty grim news, and it's certainly possible (despite my optimism) that Watt does miss regular season games. But let's focus on the silver lining in this situation. For the first time since Watt was drafted in 2011 and became the living personification of the Incredible Hulk in pads, the Texans have to finally game-plan and consider scenarios of how the defense (and the entire team, for that matter) will look on the field without Watt.
What does Watt's injury mean for the Texans? For starters, they have to really take a long, hard look at the depth behind him, as well as the rest of the defensive line and the outside linebackers. Having Watt on that defensive line is the equivalent of having a cheat code on a video game. His absence, at least in the short term, will force defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and Bill O'Brien to do some additional analysis to prepare for life without Watt. Schematically and from a personnel perspective, the coaches will have to be more creative without Watt. That's a no-brainer. At least they have several weeks to adjust to this instead of it being a scenario where an unexpected injury happens in the middle of the season, with an opponent on the schedule in a week or less. Although it's something that we'd never like to have to plan for, if there is ever a situation where Watt unexpectedly has to miss additional time in the future, at least the Texans will be familiar with playing without their cheat code.
In my opinion, the most critical position battle in training camp this year will be for the opposing 5-tech (left defensive end) in this system. The victor from this position battle will be relied upon to create pressure from the opposite side of the offensive line and help to take away the "just slide protection over Watt" card that offensive coordinators rely on to help contain the beast that is #99.
The Texans have a surprisingly decent group of "unknown" talents battling for the position. I know that many of you are clamoring for a "big name" to line up opposite of Watt. Those kinds of guys simply don't grow on trees. This downtime from Watt's dominance is an opportunity for at least one, if not more, of these guys to make a name for himself. If I was a gambling man, I'd bet that one of these talented young players will emerge from the shadows and make his presence felt. There's no time like the present!