Defensive star Watt an offensive threat, too

Dec 5, 2014 3:03 PM

HOUSTON (AP) - J.J. Watt has long been feared for his sacks and swats.

This year teams have to worry about his receiving skills, too.

The 6-foot-5, 289-pound defensive end had another touchdown catch in Houston's win on Sunday to give him three this season. He has one more touchdown reception than star receiver Andre Johnson and more than all of the Texans tight ends combined.

Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has enjoyed watching the big guy, who began his college career as a tight end, have some fun on offense.

"He goes after the ball like he goes after the quarterback and both of those are good," Crennel said.

Watt's work on offense hasn't slowed down his production on defense. He leads the team with 11 ½ sacks and is first in the NFL with a franchise-record five fumble recoveries and 36 quarterback hits. He also has a fumble return for a touchdown and another score an interception return.

He's found someone to talk to about playing on the opposite side of the ball in assistant coach Mike Vrabel, a former linebacker who had scored a touchdown on each of his 12 career receptions.

Watt's following in his footsteps in that way with each of his grabs going for scores as well.

"He has definitely helped," Watt said. "I think that he might have helped in getting the package in the first place. He has given me some tips."

Watt wouldn't divulge any of the insider information he's received from Vrabel, but he did share one thing the three-time Super Bowl champion told him.

"Spike the ball when you score. That's the one he is adamant about, so I try," he said. "I was so excited this week I couldn't even hold on to the thing when I stood up."

Vrabel declined an interview request for this story.

But Houston's top receivers had plenty to say about Watt's receiving skills. DeAndre Hopkins, who leads the Texans with 1,041 yards receiving and six touchdown receptions, laughed when asked if Watt was a good receiver.

"No. But he makes plays so that's all that matters," Hopkins said. "The in between stuff really isn't a big deal if you go out and make plays. But as far as being receiver, nah."

Watt's first receiving touchdown was an easy one. He was wide open in the end zone and simply waited for the ball to get to him for the 1-yard score. The second two have been a little more difficult. Watt had to dive in the end zone to grab both of those.

Hopkins said what's perhaps most impressive about Watt's receiving is that teams know the ball's going to him, but still can't stop it.

"Ninety-five percent of the time you know that if J.J.'s out there he's getting the ball, he's not going to waste his time," Hopkins said.

Johnson knows some people are surprised with Watt's work on offense, but the he's not one of them after watching him play defense for four seasons.

"He has great hand-eye coordination," Johnson said. "You don't really see guys pick balls off at the defensive line position unless they have bounced around on somebody. He can just jump right up in the air and pick the ball off ... ever since he has been here he has always run around and caught balls with us. I always tell people it's not surprising for us to see it because we get to see it every day."

Watt joked that the offensive plays are so much more complex than those on defense that he's often confused when preparing for a play on offense.

"I have no idea what they're saying in the huddle on offense," he said. "I swear to God. I have no clue what the play calls are or anything. I know my little gambit of plays. I know what I'm supposed to do on those."

Watt said he'll look at the quarterback after he calls the play and ask him to break it down for him.

"I just say: 'Hey which one is this?' He'll be like: 'This is the one where you do ...,' and I say: 'Oh OK, sure. Cool,'" Watt said.

Houston coach Bill O'Brien marvels at all the things Watt can do and said he's unique because along with defensive end he can play defensive tackle, nose tackle, linebacker and, of course, tight end.

"He is definitely one of the most versatile players I've ever been around," O'Brien said. "The thing ... I think sets him apart is his work ethic, the way that he approaches every single day. He's got tremendous talent, but he really does a great job of working extremely hard every day to get the most out of that talent."

Hopkins said Watt hasn't asked him for any pointers on offense, but that he does talk a little trash about how he's going to score more touchdowns than the receiver this season. Those conversations leave Hopkins shaking his head.

"I never thought I'd be having a conversation with a defensive end about scoring touchdowns," Hopkins said with a smile.

Watt's performance has some wondering if he could become the first defensive player to win MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986, but the odds are probably stacked against him.

"It's hard for a defensive player that doesn't touch the ball as much, it's hard for him to be an MVP," Crennel said. "But to this point, J.J. has touched the ball and scored touchdowns, so some of those people who like offensive guys might consider him."

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