On the day before Texans training camp on Friday, several defensive players shared high expectations for second-year defensive end J.J. Watt.
The 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Wisconsin, Watt had 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four passes defensed and a team-high 7.0 tackles for loss as a rookie. He played his best football late in the season and in the playoffs, when he tied for the NFL postseason lead with 3.5 sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown in the Wild Card round against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I expect J.J. to become a megastar," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "But he can't fall off. I told him that 'This year, people are going to be looking for you, you're not going to surprise them anymore and they're going to get up to play because of your reputation. And it can only go two ways with that: Either fall off or become a megastar.' I believe in him and think that he has a tremendous upside and he's just beginning to scratch the surface of the player that he can be, and y'all are going to see a lot from J.J. Watt."
Said outside linebacker Brooks Reed, after being told of Smith's 'megastar' prediction: "I like that idea. I think he will, and he's one of the hardest workers on this team. I've trained with him and he's stronger than I've ever seen him, and he's abnormally fast for a man that size. He's got unlimited ability, so he's set himself up to have a great year."
Added outside linebacker Connor Barwin: "I think J.J. definitely has potential. The last four weeks of the year, and I think any of our coaches would say this, there wasn't a defensive tackle that was playing any better than him. So if he can play the way he did at end of last year the start of this year, then that's exactly what's probably gonna happen."
For his part, Watt was appreciative of the megastar expectations afforded him by Smith and his other teammates.
"That's the plan," he said. "That's what comes with the territory. When your team wins and you play well, people expect you to take the next step. I can't do it without my teammates. I think our whole defense has a chance to go from good to great, great to better. If it takes me to that level, it takes me there. I'm just working hard to go out there and win."
Watt, 23, said he reported to camp on Friday seven or eight pounds heavier than he was last year.
"I'm much stronger, much bigger and much faster," he said. "It's going to be a good year."