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J.J. Watt re-injures back, out at least 8 weeks; Texans sign Antonio Smith

HOUSTON – Houston Texans defensive superstar J.J. Watt has re-injured his back and will miss at least the next eight weeks after he was placed Wednesday on the injured reserve list.

Watt underwent back surgery in the offseason, but returned to game action in Week 1 against the Bears.

Watt played in each of the Texans' first three games, extending his consecutive games-played streak to 83. He has never missed a game since he was drafted by the Texans in 2011.

He has 1.5 sacks, good for fourth on the team, and five quarterback hits, second only to linebacker John Simon.

"J.J. did everything he could do to get back on the field after surgery this summer. He followed his doctors' orders. He played it smart. He passed every test before being cleared to play," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "He felt good in the Kansas City game. He felt like he was starting to play like himself again. I have no idea when his back injury reoccurred. It's flared up to a point where he can't continue to play right now. Going on IR will give J.J. all the time he needs to being 100 percent healthy."

Watt is Houston's most famous Texan, sacking quarterbacks and leading the team's defense every Sunday.

"You can never replace the best player in the NFL," O'Brien said. "At the same time, this is a football team. This is a team -- a team made up of some really good veteran leaders, some really good young players. We've got a lot of good players in that locker room, and we're looking forward to the challenges that are ahead."

TEXANS SUPERFAN MIMI, 99, GETS TO MEET J.J. WATT

Remember the lovely Mimi? Her story went viral when #Texans fans, #KPRC2 and loved ones helped to make her birthday wish come true when she met JJ Watt last year. She has a special message for JJ as he recovers from his back injury. MORE-->http://bit.ly/2dASbx3

Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Wednesday, September 28, 2016

He said the decision to place Watt on IR was made by the organization and was in the best interest of his long-term health.

To offset the loss of Watt, the team signed former Texan Antonio Smith. The 12-year-veteran played for the Broncos last season. Smith, 34, was with the Texans from 2010 through 2013.

"When you have that kind of ability and that kind of playmaking, it's hard to replace with one guy. We are going to ask all the guys on defense to pick it up, to put a little extra in it and see if we can gain some of those plays that J.J. used to make," defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said.

The player known as the Ninja Assassin, Smith joined the team for Wednesday's practice.

"(Smith) hasn't played football in a long time. We're going to work at it. He's going to work at it and we're going to get him ready to play," O'Brien said.

In the Texans' Thursday night 27-0 loss at New England, Watt had just two tackles and no sacks or quarterback hits.

O'Brien said he believes that the short week between Sunday's game and the Thursday night game did not factor into the injury and that Watt was cleared to play.

He did not know if Watt injured the same disc that was operated on or if Watt will need additional surgery.

Dr. Neil Badlani, Chief Medical Officer for Nobilis Health is an expert on spine surgeries. Wedneaday he speculated about Watt's injury.

"If they (athletes) go back and do too much too fast, they're putting a lot of pressure on that disk and there's potential for recurring injury to that disk or recurring herniation and that could be what he's facing now," Dr. Badlani said.

He says, six weeks after these types of operations, an athlete can begin light to moderate exercise. The hits, tackles and pounding that happen on the gridiron need to wait at least eight to 12 weeks after surgery, according to Badlani.

"We also know that when they do go back to play, even if it has been eight weeks to 12 weeks, there's always risk of recurring injury particularly in linemen. They have high rates of reinjury with these types of injuries."

News of his injury quickly spread around town and made some fans nervous.

"Yeah, I do think our defense needs him. Him being out, possibly for the season? I don't know how we'll get through the season without J.J. Watt," Texans fan Brian Adams said.

"I think they brought him back too fast. They should have let him heal better,” Lionel Martel said. "They still have a good defense. They have to learn to play without him, and when he comes back they'll be even better."

Cornell Watts is not losing faith.

A season ticket holder for the last 10 years, Watts is confident that the Texans will figure it out.

"We went 4-0 in the preseason without him. He's definitely a big part of our defense, but it's next man up," Watts said. "Somebody has to step up and make it happen."