J.J. Watt vs. an entire defense is usually the key matchup in any Texans game. Watt won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award for the third time in the last four years last season when he had 17 1/2 sacks, including 13 in his last 10 games. Bears right tackle Bobby Massie never has faced him, but Kyle Long knows what he’s up against.
“The thing that frustrates a lot of people about J.J. is he just doesn’t quit,” said Long, who has faced Watt in the Pro Bowl. “There’s not many guys who can do what he can do. But [what] separates him is his will and he’s a gritty guy. He’s determined and he’s going to terrorize you.”
After having as many as 20 players on their 90-man roster sitting out a single practice during camp, the Bears will be relatively healthy Sunday — four starters are questionable: Long (shoulder), cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee), wide receiver Kevin White (hamstring) and nickel back Bryce Callahan (groin).
The key will be staying healthy. Last year only four Bears players started every game — Long, Fuller, guard/center Matt Slauson and safety Adrian Amos — the second-fewest in the NFL (the Patriots had three) and the lowest number of every-game starters for the Bears since at least the mid-70s and maybe ever.
“You’d prefer to have everybody stay healthy all 16 games — I don’t know how realistic that is,” coach John Fox said. “Obviously health does [impact] teams’ success. We feel pretty healthy at this stage and hopefully we can remain that way.”
The Bears’ offensive line seems to forever be a work-in-progress and this year will be no different with only left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. in the same position as he ended last season. Left guard Josh Sitton just signed last Sunday. Cody Whitehair was moved from left guard to center when Sitton signed. And Kyle Long moved from right tackle back to right guard when the Bears signed Bobby Massie in free agency.
It can be done, though. With just two offensive-line starters from Super Bowl 50 — only one in the same position — the Broncos rushed for 148 yards (a 5.1 average) and two touchdowns against a Panthers defense that was fourth in the NFL in rushing defense last year in a 21-20 victory Thursday night at Mile High Stadium.
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A year ago at this time, safety Harold Jones-Quartey had just arrived, an undrafted free agent waived by the Cardinals in the cut-down to 53. He ended up starting four games. Now, with that experience and an entire offseason, he’s better prepared to start this season.
“It’s a world of difference,” Jones-Quartey said. “Coming in last year, I kind of knew what I had to do. But I didn’t know what everybody else had to do, because I didn’t have much time. Having the offseason, knowing what everybody else is doing on defense, it makes you play faster. It makes a big difference, because you’re in better position to make plays.”