Trust, D-Line Depth Take Pressure Off J.J. Watt as Cardinals Start Season

JJ Watt - Arizona Cardinals

Getty Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt participates in an offseason workout at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center on June 9, 2021, in Tempe, Arizona.

There was a time when J.J. Watt wanted to be on the field for every defensive snap.

Now, as the Arizona Cardinals defensive end begins his 11th NFL season, Watt said he understands that getting a few minutes of rest on the sideline can help him stay fresh late in games and hopefully healthy during a 17-game regular season.

“I don’t mind (coming out of games),” Watt told reporters Thursday, September 9. “Early in my career I did.”

Watt, 32, said that thinking changed midway through his 10 years in Houston.

“We had a thing where I came out in certain series of the game to make sure I stayed fresh, so that you were ready for the fourth quarter, so that you were ready for the big third down,” he said. “It’s definitely not something that’s new to me, and I’m actually looking forward to it.”

Even taking those series off, Watt played more than 1,000 snaps in 2020 with the Texans. It was the third time in his career that he had played more than 1,000 snaps, according to reporter Darren Urban. He also hit the 1,000 mark in 2014 and ’15 — seasons that ended with Watt being named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

While he figures to play a lot in Arizona, Watt realizes the Cardinals are deep and talented along the defensive line, and he doesn’t need to be on the field every defensive play for the team to win.

“I think that having the right personnel and having the ability to do that is big part of it as well,” he said, adding that he can trust his teammates to “step in when I do take those breaks.”

“You have to have that trust, and I definitely have that,” Watt said.

7 ‘Starters’ on D-Line?

Watt is the central figure of a line that defensive coordinator Vance Joseph says is the deepest the team has had since he joined the Cardinals in 2019.

“We have depth at D-Line this year,” Joseph told reporters Thursday, September 9. “We’ve got seven guys that we like that can all be starters.”

The Cardinals kept seven defensive lineman on the 53-man roster, though defensive end Jordan Phillips was placed on injured reserve on September 2 and will miss at least the first two games of the season.

Joseph said all seven, when healthy, are expected to be in the rotation, with Rashard Lawrence at nose tackle, and Zach AllenCorey PetersLeki Fotu and Michael Dogbe playing multiple positions along the defensive line.

“We’re trying to grow our D-Line so we’re not having guys play one position,” the Cardinals defensive coordinator said. “We’re trying to find guys who can play across the board.”

Watt, who signed a two-year deal with Arizona in March, sat out much of training camp and did not play in either preseason game this season. As the Cardinals prepare to open the season Sunday, September 12, against the Tennessee Titans, Joseph said Watt is healthy and ready for the Week 1 challenge.

“He looks great right now,” he said. “He’s a big man. He moves so well (and) he plays so hard. It’s rare to find big guys who play that hard. Most big guys, they give you four or five snaps and they’re tired, but he doesn’t get tried, and that’s rare.”

Tired or not, Joseph said he’ll make sure Watt gets plenty of rest.

“He’s going to make plays,” the defensive coordinator said, “but when it’s time to rest, he should rest.”

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