GREEN BAY — The last time the Houston Texans and the Green Bay Packers got together, for a December 2016 regular-season meeting at Lambeau Field, J.J. Watt wasn’t on the field. That was the year the ex-University of Wisconsin star and three-time NFL defensive player of the year was sidelined for most of the season with a back injury.
So when the Texans and Packers kick off the first of their two joint practices on Monday at the Clarke Hinkle and Ray Nitschke practice fields across Oneida Street from the historic stadium, Watt knows it will be special — even if it’s not quite the same as playing at Lambeau.
He’ll get a chance to do that — albeit briefly, presumably — when the Texans and Packers open their preseason schedules Thursday night in the stadium.
And he can’t wait.
“Obviously I’m thrilled and excited to be back in Green Bay and to be playing in Wisconsin. The last time we played here, I was injured, so I couldn’t play at Lambeau,” Watt said during his appearance at the American Family Championship at University Ridge in Madison earlier this summer. “Being a kid growing up, I went to one day of training camp and I watched from the fence, and I went over to the (players’) parking lot and threw a T-shirt over for autographs. I did all that and I watched them bike over.
“I’ll never forget looking through that fence and just thinking to myself, ‘Those guys do this for a living.’ That, to me, was one of the coolest things in the world. I literally couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that they got to play football for a living. So that was one of those moments that led me down that path to where I am today. And for me to go back there and to practice there and be able to play in Lambeau, I think it all comes full circle for me and it’s going to be a really, really cool experience.
“I’m more excited that we’re playing a preseason game there than I am a regular-season (game) because I get to do the practice experience and kind of live out that dream that I had as a kid.”
The Texans arrived in Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, and the Packers announced last week that the Houston players will take part in the annual tradition of riding kids’ bikes to practice, which start at 10:15 a.m. each day.
“Joint practices are always good because you get a chance to go against somebody else,” Watt said. “You know, training camp can get long with going against the same guys every day and battling against your same teammates every day, so it’s a chance to see a different jersey and see some different looks and different players.”
Coach Matt LaFleur said the teams didn’t have any social gathering planned but that he spoke with Texans coach Bill O’Brien several times over the offseason to plan the logistics of each practice. LaFleur said the script for Monday’s practice calls for a 2-hour, 15-minute session, with the Packers offense with the Texans defense on one field and vice-versa on the other.
Coming off of Friday night’s Family Night practice and with the two practices with the Texans up next, LaFleur dialed back Sunday’s practice, having his players in shorts and helmets (instead of pads) and keeping them on the field for only 1 hour, 18 minutes.
“Just having some new faces to go against out there will certainly raise the intensity level and that level of competition,” LaFleur said. “We’ll have both fields going with our offense on one side and their offense on the other side going against each other’s defense.”
LaFleur said there wouldn’t be any 1-on-1 passing drills with cornerbacks and wide receivers because “just in my past, that’s usually where the stuff gets riled up and we’re trying to avoid the fights.”
Crosby back to work
Let the competition begin.After missing the first two weeks of camp, including the Family Night practice, veteran kicker Mason Crosby officially passed his physical and was removed from the non-football injury list. Crosby suffered a mild right calf strain while working out on his own before camp, and the Packers took an ultra-cautious approach with him.
But with challenger Sam Ficken having taken every kick so far in camp — going 11-for-14 in the practices leading up to Family Night and going 9-for-12, including making a 63-yarder, on Family Night — Crosby is ready to get back to work.
“It was bugging me more when I was running. It’s just one of those precautionary things to make sure it’s behind us,” said Crosby, who continued to kick on his own even while on the NFI list. “But as far as limiting my kicking and my preparation, I felt like I was still able to keep that up.”
Asked if anything changes for him with Ficken in camp, since Crosby hasn’t had in-camp competition since 2013, Crosby replied, “My mindset’s the same. Every time I come into camp, it’s a process. I’m preparing for a season and obviously you go out there and perform in practice and do my job. That’s the expectation every time I take the field. My mindset doesn’t change regardless of the situation. I’m going to just continue to work hard and prepare for a season.”
The right-footed Crosby said the injury didn’t bother him when he kicked, and that “it only bugged me whenever I was sprinting. And it was never one of those where I felt like something significant happened. It was just kind of a little wear and tear so we were monitoring it.”
New to the injury list was cornerback Kevin King, who was sidelined by a hamstring injury. LaFleur said this injury isn’t related to the hamstring injury that ended King’s season after six games last year, but he didn’t sound especially optimistic, either. “We’ll know a little bit more in the next couple of days,” LaFleur said, meaning King is unlikely to play against the Texans on Thursday. … Veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who did very little on Family Night, did not practice Sunday but it was just part of the team’s maintenance plan for him. … Rookie safety Darnell Savage, sidelined early in camp because of a dental procedure, made his debut with the No. 1 defense in a full-speed 11-on-11 period. Raven Greene, who’d been manning his spot while Savage was out, moved down into the slot as a hybrid safety/inside linebacker in the dime package. … The best play of the day came when Aaron Rodgers connected with wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 65-yard touchdown against tight coverage by Tony Brown.