J.J. Watt went from being the most dominant defensive player in the NFL during the early portion of his career to one who battled with injuries that cost him significant time from 2016 to '19.
His former team, the Houston Texans, eventually took over his training regimen, to the point that Watt stopped working out with personal trainer Brad Arnett. But the pair reunited last season, and Arnett told Jim Trotter of NFL.com that Watt is ready to have a big year:
"He's had some injuries and everyone thinks he's done and he can't do this or that. But he did some things with me this offseason that he was doing from a measurable standpoint when he was winning Defensive Player of the Year awards, like static standing 10-yard sprints, 20-yard sprints and things in the weight room.
"He's at a point where he wants to go out and shock people and have them say, 'Holy s--t. This guy can still play. This whole thing wasn't a fluke that Arizona gave him this money.' He very much wants to prove that I can still play."
For Watt, much of the switch came down to the mental side of his regimen. After a number of injuries and conservative training approaches, he found himself worried about cutting loose, a mentality he wanted to change.
"Every offseason, there has been trainers and doctors telling you, 'Hey, you have to be conservative here, you have to take it easy here; you can't do this, you can't do that; you can only do this, you can only do that,'" he said. "It gets to a point where, yes, I can go out there and play, but if I can't train the way I need to train and practice the way I need to practice, then I'm not going to be the player I need to be."
The 32-year-old is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year selection, five-time Pro Bowler, five-time first-team All-Pro and future Hall of Famer. Before the emergence of Aaron Donald, Watt was the preeminent interior rusher in football, with an incredible 69 sacks between the 2012 and '15 seasons.
In both 2012 (20.5 sacks) and 2015 (17.5 sacks) he led the NFL in the category.
And then the injuries started. Watt played in just three games in 2016 after reaggravating a herniated disc he had surgery on in the offseason. He required a second surgery, ending his season.
In 2017 he played in five games before a tibial plateau fracture ended his campaign.
He played in all 16 games in 2018 and was back to his old ways, registering 16 sacks. But a torn left pectoral cut his season in half in 2019.
He again played a full season in 2020, though his production (five sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback hits) was below his own lofty standards.
Now with the Arizona Cardinals on a two-year, $31 million deal, Watt is looking to prove his best football isn't behind him. Arnett, at least, believes Watt still has that level of football in him.