Cardinals DE Inspired By J.J. Watt’s ‘Perfect’ Play

Getty Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt participates in an offseason workout at Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center on June 2, 2021, in Tempe, Arizona.

It was a weekly tradition for Zach Allen at Boston College: Each Friday, he would watch game film of then-Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt to prepare for games on Saturdays.

There were games, Allen said, where he would mimic Watt’s moves on the field without having practiced them, and he’d surprise himself with his play.

“It’s one of those things where … you see it, and it helps you, and you do it,” the Arizona Cardinals defensive end said Thursday, September 2, on “The Big Red Rage” with Paul Calvisi and Ron Wolfley.

Now that they’re teammates on the Cardinals’ defensive line, Allen gets to watch and learn from the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year each day in practice.

“He’s obviously the best to learn from at the position,” Allen said. “It couldn’t have been better having him here, just the way he conducts himself, the way he teaches, just his attitude, the way he really just helps the culture in the locker room. … It’s been a blessing and beyond having him here.”

Watt was the Cardinals’ prize free-agent acquisition during the offseason. The five-time Pro Bowl selection signed a two-year deal with Arizona in March, leaving Houston after 10 seasons with the Texans.

In April, while house hunting in the Phoenix area, Watt invited four of the Cardinals’ young defensive linemen — Allen, Rashard Lawrence, Michael Dogbe and Leki Fotu — out for dinner to get to know his new teammates, Allen said. They were immediately impressed, he said, if also a little starstruck.

“He was awesome,” the third-year defensive end said.

Watt sat out much of training camp due to injury and did not play in the Cardinals’ two preseason games. But Allen says Watt made an immediate impact with his presence in the locker room and the times they were able to practice together.

“This year was easily the best camp that I think we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Allen said, “just the energy, just the competitiveness, the fire. … You definitely could tell there was just a different energy, especially the new guys that we brought in.”

Allen says Watt, now in his 11th year, is every bit the player he remembers watching during those Friday film sessions at Boston College.

“It’s going to be huge,” Allen said of Watt’s impact on the Cardinals’ defense. “The way he just plays the game is perfect. (He’s) the ideal football player.”

Griese Cheers Watt Signing

Former NFL quarterback and “Monday Night Football” analyst Brian Griese said the addition of Watt shows “a bigger sense of urgency” for a Cardinals team that started 6-3 a year ago but “wilted down the stretch” to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.

“I think you see them going out and trying to find free-agent players that bring leadership,” Griese said Wednesday, September 1, on “The Dave Pasch Podcast.” “Obviously, J.J. Watt is at the top of that food chain. (He’s) one of the best players to ever play the game, and one of the best leaders to ever be a part of the National Football League.”

Griese said Watt’s leadership will be crucial for the Cardinals to contend in the NFC West, which he calls the “toughest division in football.”

“I don’t think that you can measure the way that he interacts with guys like (rookie linebacker) Zaven Collins, like (third-year quarterback) Kyler Murray,” he said. “You can’t put a value on that. I think this team needs that.”

Murray & McCoy

While Watt was the Cardinals’ most high-profile pickup of the offseason, Griese said the most important free-agent addition may be backup quarterback Colt McCoy, the 35-year-old former University of Texas star who’s now in his 12th year in the NFL.

“Kyler Murray grew up in Texas kind of idolizing Colt McCoy,” Griese explained. “He looked up to him.”

Griese said the respect and admiration Murray has for McCoy was evident when he visited the Cardinals’ training camp last week. The veteran QB also acts as a “buffer” between Murray and Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury at times, Griese said.

“I think there’s an opportunity for Colt to impact this team both on and off the field in ways that I don’t think the average fan at home might see,” he said.

With Watt bringing leadership on the defensive side of the ball, Griese said it’s time for Murray to do the same for the offense, especially now that longtime team captain Larry Fitzgerald isn’t around.

“He has to be the leader on this team when times are tough, not just when things are going well, but when there’s adversity, which is the thing he hasn’t faced in his life, in high school or in college,” he said. “He’s facing it now.”

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