WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — It is, in theory, a formula for absolute defensive domination. The Houston Texans are spending this training camp reincorporating J.J. Watt, their three-time NFL defensive player of the year, into a defense that ranked No. 1 in the league last season without him.

But there’s just one issue: Will the Watt of 2017 be the same overpowering player he was previously?

Watt’s return will be one of the league’s more intriguing story lines once the regular season arrives. Few players in the NFL have been as overwhelmingly, ceaselessly productive as Watt. But few have pushed their bodies as relentlessly or, until last season, as effectively through injuries as Watt did. Last season, he could push no further.

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Now it’s time to find out if pushing through all those injuries has exacted a lasting toll on his body.

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“I feel great,” Watt said following Tuesday’s joint practice with the New England Patriots at The Greenbrier resort, the Texans’ training camp home this summer. “I feel very good. I’m very excited to be out there. I’m not here to make any proclamations. I’m not here to say any breaking news. But I’m very excited. I’m very excited for the season.”

Watt underwent back surgery before last season to have a herniated disk repaired but was on the field for the opener. His season ended following a Week 3 defeat to the Patriots, however, as he underwent another back surgery and was placed on the injured reserve list.

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Watt never had missed a game in his first five NFL seasons, amassing 74.5 sacks over that span and establishing himself as the sport’s most decorated defensive player. It wasn’t only about his otherworldly talent. Watt’s round-the-clock work ethic was the stuff of legend. So, too, was his pain threshold. After his 17.5-sack 2015 season, he reportedly underwent surgeries to have five fully or partially torn muscles repaired in his legs, groin and torso.

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Watt, at age 28, is vowing to take a sensible approach to self-preservation going forward. That includes having his practice-field workload closely monitored.

“We’ve done a good job,” he said Tuesday. “The coaching staff has a good plan in place. The trainers have a good plan in place. We’ve had great success with it so far leading up to this point, and we’re gonna continue with it down the road. It’s not necessarily any less work. It’s just smarter, trying to make sure we do it the smartest way possible because as I grow, I understand that it’s all about 16 Sundays and then beyond that. So I just need to be ready for those.”

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The new common-sense approach included declining to join teammates on a training-camp outing to ride all-terrain vehicles.

“I was over here” at the resort, Watt said. “Part of the being smarter is I didn’t know how bumpy the course was and I was making sure my back was in the best possible shape.”

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The Watt-less Texans led the NFL in total defense last season, with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Whitney Mercilus taking prominent roles. The offseason brought the free agent departures of cornerback A.J. Bouye, safety Quintin Demps and linebacker John Simon. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork retired. But Watt’s return, the Texans hope, will more than offset those losses.

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“You take the defensive MVP and put him anywhere, it makes a big difference,” nose tackle D.J. Reader said. “He’s a great player. We missed his energy. We missed his intensity. It’s good to have him back this year. … He fits right in. He comes back in and he plays like J.J.

“We have three guys that can really rush the passer. Those three guys play hard and they play their game. They don’t try go outside of their game. They don’t try to do anything different. They’re gonna play their game.”

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Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said Tuesday: “They’re good at every position, especially their front line. They can rush the passer. They can stop the run, the front line. And they’re big and fast.”

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But so much depends upon Watt still being Watt. To bring that about, Watt knows he must keep the big picture in mind.

“I think it’s something that has come with growing as a person over the last year, learning a lot about myself and a lot about what’s most important and really just making sure I get to those Sundays, game days,” he said. “I can have the greatest practice in the world today. But it doesn’t matter at all if I don’t make it to the Sundays. I need to get out there and play in the games.”

But will he be able to stick to that? That remains to be seen. In one breath, Watt talks about being smart and cautious and mature. In another, he speaks of how much he savors being on the field and seeing what he can do, even on days such as Tuesday when the stakes are decidedly lower.

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“I’m very excited,” Watt said. “But to me, I treat practice like games. So every day is exciting. And any time you get to go out there in full pads and practice and work on your craft, I think that’s really game day to me. Days like today are great because you get to go out there. You get to work. You get to grind. You get to make mistakes and fix your mistakes, and see where you’re succeeding and see where you’re failing.

“As long as you treat every practice like game day, you get hyped up every morning. I’m very fortunate. I get to be at a job where I wake up in the morning and I’m hyped to go to work. I can’t wait to get to work with my teammates. I can’t wait to get out there and work on my craft. It’s a lot of fun and days like today are what you dream about.”

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