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Bears want to face the best — and that means J.J. Watt

Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt (Getty)

It’s not defensive end J.J. Watt’s freakish athleticism that resonates with Bears guard Kyle Long. Nor is it his combination of brute strength, skill-position speed and impressive length.

Those attributes undoubtedly have helped Watt blossom into one of the NFL’s best players. But, according to Long, it’s not what makes him special.

“I think the thing that frustrates a lot of people about J.J is he just doesn’t quit,” Long said Wednesday at Halas Hall.

“The thing that separates him is his will. He’s a gritty guy, he’s determined and he’s going to terrorize you.”

Limiting Watt’s terrorization, of course, starts with Long and the rest of the offensive line.

It’s a group that’s become more experienced and formidable after the addition of guard Josh Sitton. But it’s still a unit in search of continuity and chemistry.

Sitton joined the Bears on Monday, prompting a quick reshuffling up front for the season opener Sunday in Houston. Long also returned to practice Monday after missing weeks of practice because of a bothersome shoulder.

The Bears also need to figure out their best option at center — promising rookie Cody Whitehair or seven-year veteran Ted Larsen.

With Watt’s ability to play across the line, the three-time defensive player of the year winner — who has 74 ½ sacks in 80 career games — figures to test all involved.

“It’s always fun to play against the best,” Long said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

It remains to be seen if Watt will be at his best. He’s not far removed from back surgery for a herniated disk in late July.

History, though, says the Bears should be ready for an intense fight, regardless of Watt’s physical condition. Watt hasn’t missed a game in his five-year career. He simply won’t let himself.

Just look at what he did in 2012. He played the entire season with torn ligaments in left elbow after he dislocated it in August of that year. Wearing a bulky brace, Watt made 20 ½ sacks and won his first defensive player of the year award that season.

“I have no doubt going forward here that the level of play is going to continue, and I look forward to overcoming yet another piece of adversity,” Watt said during a conference call. “If I’m out there, you should expect to see the best of me, and that’s all I can say.”

Watt is a headliner, but there is more to the Texans’ defense, a unit that finished last season third in total defense and fifth in sacks at 45.

Double-teaming Watt only gets you so far.

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork remains a 325-pound load in his 13th season. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is coming off a 12-sack season, and linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, the first overall pick in 2013, is finally healthy after dealing with various injuries to start his career.

“We have a really solid defense all around,” Watt said.

It’s a fitting first test for a Bears’ offense that will be determined to run the ball behind a line that was built with athleticism and physicality in mind.

It’s not quite an unstoppable-force-meets-an-immovable-object situation, but the individual battles up front promise to be fierce. Watt said it starts with facing Sitton and Long at guard.

Watt described Long as a “very good technician” and an “all-around total package” who is quick, agile and very athletic.

“That’s a good challenge for us,” Watt said. “We always look forward for a challenge — [facing] two guys that have been to Pro Bowls and have earned that respect around the league.”

The Bears say similar things about Watt.

“In the NFL, you want to play against the best,” running back Jeremy Langford said. “If we were to play them without JJ Watt, it wouldn’t be right.”