Thursday 19th July, 2018
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Texans move on without Watt and Mercilus

Sports Xchange - Thursday 12th October, 2017

HOUSTON -- The shock has subsided days after Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt suffered a gruesome fractured leg when his left knee buckled awkwardly underneath him Sunday night.

While the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year is just starting the long, painful steps of a lengthy rehabilitation after undergoing surgery to repair the damage, his teammates are facing the difficult task of replacing Watt in the lineup.

The Texans have grown accustomed to playing without Watt over the past two seasons, preparing them for this latest absence.

A year ago, Watt was limited to three games when he underwent his second back surgery for a herniated disk. Now, he's out again as he and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus were officially placed on injured reserve Wednesday.

Instead of having to adjust on the fly when the Pro-Bowl pass rusher got hurt, as they did during a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, the Texans have a week to adapt to life without Watt as they prepare to host the winless Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium.

"I think we will do good," Texans defensive lineman Brandon Dunn said. "We've been through this situation before. I hate to say that, but, once you've been in a situation before, it's always easier. Everybody isn't like, 'Wow, what are we going to do next?'

"Everybody here is a pro. We all know what No. 99 brought to the table. We have to fill the void and everybody has to do a little bit more."

The primary replacement for Watt will likely be Pro-Bowl outside linebacker-defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is capable of lining up with his hand on the ground in a three-point stance or standing up in a two-point stance. Although a lot of the burden for replacing Watt will fall on Clowney's shoulders, it will be a group effort.

Texans head coach Bill O'Brien was encouraged by how the team has reacted in the wake of losing Watt and Mercilus.

He said, "Absolutely, it was a very good response. We had really good focus in the meetings, had really one of our better Wednesday practices. It's unfortunate, you feel for the guys when they get injured. The train keeps moving. It's not going to be one guy that takes their spot.

"It's going to be multiple guys, it's going to be schematic. It's going to be a unified effort to make up for the loss of them, but it's definitely something that you have to move forward with and our guys had a good Wednesday."

Between nose tackle D.J. Reader and defensive ends Joel Heath and Christian Covington and Clowney, the Texans should be able to line up capably without Watt.

What will be missed, though, is Watt's game-changing presence. Although Watt hadn't recorded a sack this year in five games, he had 11 tackles, three for losses and five quarterback hits.

Clowney leads the Texans with three sacks, six tackles for losses and has five quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries, returning one for a touchdown.

"It will be tough, but somebody has to step up and play," Reader said. "We can't get down on ourselves. (Clowney) has been a leader all last year, this season, too.

"He's going to do what he does. The rest of us have to raise our game. It's a big piece, losing J.J. and Whitney. We have to raise our game."

The Texans obtained some reinforcements with Watt and Mercilius. Veteran defensive end Kendall Langford and outside linebacker Lamarr Houston spent their first day getting acclimated with the Texans after signing their contracts following a Tuesday tryout.

Both players have a history of knee problems, but passed physicals. Langford emphasized that he's healthy again.

"I'm ready to roll," he said. "I just wanted to show them that I'm healthy and ready to roll. As a result, I'm here."

Langford, 31, has 290 career tackles and 22.5 sacks in previous stints with the Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, Rams and New Orleans Saints.

"I'm just going to do my job," Langford said. "I'm not going to try to fill J.J.'s shoes. Those are big shoes to fill. I'm excited to be back playing football. I appreciate the opportunity that they gave me and I'm going to make the best out of it. I'm a competitor. I'm a football player."

Houston is a 6-foot-3, 274-pound former Oakland Raiders second-round draft pick from the University of Texas. The 30-year-old has recovered from a pair of torn anterior cruciate ligaments in the past.

Houston has 285 career tackles and 25 sacks, including his time with the Chicago Bears.

"Two good veterans, really good guys, a lot of experience," O'Brien said of Langford and Houston. "Both have experienced adversity in their careers, which I think is a good thing. They've had to come back from injuries, they've had to come back and play at a high level.

"They're obviously in shape, which is the big key in those workouts. Both heavy-handed players relative to the positions that they play. Smart players, guys that I believe can help us. So, I think they're definitely two good additions to the team."

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