TEXANS CAMP REPORT

Texans training camp report: J.J. Watt makes his return to practice

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

When J.J. Watt appeared at his locker Sunday morning, he was greeted with a huge surprise. A box of Shipley Do-Nuts sat at his locker with a note that read, "From the Rook's" was the sight that welcomed the five-time Pro-Bowler back to the field.

After practicing in full pads for the first time on August 14, Watt did not touch the practice field all last week. His absence was the result of a new load management plan implemented by the Houston Texans' coaching staff.

Although he was not present on the practice field, Watt still managed to get some work done by participating in individual workouts inside Houston's Training Center.

"Now, because he has been playing a long time, some of that wear and tear begins to impact your body a little bit — so, we are managing J.J. this year," Assistant Coach Romeo Crennel said on Sunday. "We're not putting him out there all the time, particularly in practice, and try to manage him in practice so that he can be ready for the games and then he will be able to play and produce at a high level in the games. I think that he will do that when we get to the games. He is strong, he is good looking and when he puts that uniform on, he's an imposing figure."

The new load management plan is a strategy by the Texans to keep their star defensive end healthy for the entire 2020 campaign. With the exception of 2018, the 31-year-old prodigy from Wisconsin has dealt with a plethora of injuries that have forced him to miss 32 out of a possible 64 games over the past four seasons.

In 2019, Watt missed half the regular season after he sustained a torn pectoral injury during a Week 8 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

However, with the help of his coaching staff, 2020 has the potential to be one of Watt's healthiest seasons. During his first media session at the start of training camp, Watt stated that the lockdown quarantine period due to COVID-19 gave him a considerable amount of time to get his body ready for the upcoming season.

"I would say that the quarantine situation has given me literally nothing to do but work out every day," Watt said. "It truly has been one of the best off seasons from a workout standpoint that I've ever had and I'm very, very pleased about it. My body feels as good as it's felt since probably 2014, 2015 — somewhere around there. I'm really looking forward to getting into camp and just getting to work."

It's a competitive situation for the players in line trying to obtain the job as the Texans' third-string running back. Since the start of training camp, Karan Higdon has showcased his potential to upgrade from the practice squad, while Scottie Phillips continues to leave an impression as a rookie.

With the 2020 season set to kick off in less than a month, it appears that the Texans are closing in on their guy. Following Sunday's practice, Houston's Head Coach and General Manager Bill O'Brien said that he expects to have Buddy Howell as the team's third running back.

"I'd say I think Buddy is right there right now," O'Brien said on Sunday. "I think again, special teams come into play there. Buddy is a different type of player, but a really good special teams player."

Unless David Johnson or Duke Johnson's season becomes riddled by nagging injuries, one can assure that Howell will reprise his role on special teams.

Since joining the team in 2018, the 24-year-old running back has appeared in 39 snaps — with 25 coming during the Texans' season finale loss against the Titans last season. For his career, Howell has only recorded 10 yards on five carries.

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