TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt practiced Thursday for the first time since he injured his left shoulder against the Houston Texans on Oct. 24.
He was “very limited,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said, but was able to take part in some drills. Watt was on the field for the open portion of practice and went through drills punching a sled and facing a defensive lineman acting as an offensive lineman.
Kingsbury didn’t have any clarification on whether Watt might be ready to play in his first game in almost 12 weeks on Monday night in the NFC wild-card game against the Los Angeles Rams.
“Like I mentioned earlier, it’s the next step,” Kingsbury said. “We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves for whether he’s going to play or not for a while. It’s great having him back out there.
“He was done with his rehab, done with all he could do in the weight room, so we wanted to get him back out doing some functional football exercises. That was the step today.”
Watt said he dislocated his shoulder “out the back” and injured his rotator cuff, labrum, capsule and infraspinatus, in addition to dislocating his biceps tendon.
After having surgery to repair the shoulder on Nov. 3, Watt was given a four-to-six-month window for a return. He said he broke his timeline into weeks and asked the question: “How the hell can I get back faster than that to get back out there, guys?”
“And then you just go to work and you have no clue that it’s going to actually work or not,” he said. “You have no clue if you’re gonna make it happen or not, but you just go to work. And if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but I knew that, at that moment, you’re going to do everything you possibly can because those guys in there [would] do everything they possibly could for me.”
Watt returned to the field Thursday after about 2½ months.
His status for Monday night won’t be determined until closer to the game, but he’ll need to be cleared by the Cardinals’ doctors and trainers, Kingsbury said.
Watt has spent the past few weeks ramping up toward a return to the field. He maxed out his recovery and rehab and had started doing on-field work before getting designated to return from the injured reserve on Friday.
“He’s basically done everything humanly possible he could do in the training room, in the weight room,” Kingsbury said.
The next step in Watt’s return was facing offensive linemen off to the side at practice. He went through simulated plays, drives and halves before returning to practice Thursday. His conditioning was never a concern, Watt said, and he started running as soon as the doctors allowed it.
“I’m not going to put myself on the field if it’s going to put my team in a worse situation,” Watt said.
If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it is.
Watt returned from a torn pec after 10 weeks in 2019, just in time for the Houston Texans’ playoff opener, after being given a longer prognosis for a return.
Even though Watt is in the 21-day window to return from injured reserve, he’s in the next step of his return, which is to start facing live action.
Watt always thought coming back in time to play this season was a possibility.
“For me, personally, there’s never been a moment that I didn’t consider [a return to be] realistic because if I did then it wouldn’t work,” he said. “I had to truly believe it every second for it to work. I mean, you have to believe in the process and you have to believe you’re going to do something. I mean, it’s the visualization factor or the putting-it-out-in-the-universe, whatever you want to say, but if you don’t believe in yourself, it’s not gonna happen. So, I believed in it from the beginning.”