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Being J.J. Watt: Falcons' Tyler Starr tries to give offense a good look
Atlanta practice squad player Tyler Starr, right, on imitating J.J. Watt: "He's just all over the place trying to make plays." US TODAY Sports, Icon Sportswire
Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- No one asked Tyler Starr to go shave his flowing blonde mane into a closely cropped look. No one asked him to go throw on a lengthy left arm brace, either.
But when Atlanta Falcons assistant offensive line coach Keith Carter gathered the scout team this week, Carter did ask Starr to do his best J.J. Watt impersonation to give the offense a feel for how the Houston Texans star moves in the Texans' base 3-4 defense with multiple sub-package looks.
Right tackle Ryan Schraeder snickered in describing Starr's performance.
"Tyler, he plays like J.J., with that high energy," Schraeder said. "I mean, kind of a nut. I love him, but he's kind of crazy on the field. Some of his moves are the same. He's just all over the place. He's been giving us a good look."
They are also similarly built. Starr is 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Watt 6-5, 289 pounds.
But, before anyone jumps to conclusions, Starr in no way views himself in the same category as Watt. The practice squad member, however, does take his role this week very seriously.
"The kind of player that J.J. is, he really has the freedom to do whatever he wants," Starr said. "When you put a little more of an athletic guy down at the three-tech (defensive tackle), it really makes those guys work, because they don't know if he's going to come inside, if he's going to swim me. He's so good that he's got the ability to make those plays backside to come behind the block to make a tackle for a loss.
"I'm just trying to get them prepared for, 'Hey, just because he's lined up here doesn't mean this is where he's going to be at the end of the play.' He's got no discipline. He's just all over the place trying to make plays."
Starr mentioned how Carter rolled clips of the Texans' front seven and asked him to mimic certain plays involving Watt based on certain protections. Watt indeed moves around constantly. During last week's first defensive series against Tampa Bay, he lined up in three different spots in seven plays, the majority at left defensive end. He was chipped or double teamed on three of those plays. The Texans obviously want to create confusion and set Watt up for one-on-one matchups.
"Not only is important for me to give them a good look, but I can still work on my technique," said Starr, an outside linebacker who has worked extensively with coach Dan Quinn after practices. "I've played nickel end. Even though I wasn't playing a four I (inside edge of offensive tackle), you can kind of compare that to playing a six technique (4-3 end). Or a three (4-3 tackle) compared to a five (3-4 end). I'm here to work my craft within the guidelines of what they're trying to prepare for."
Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan knows how crucial it is to be prepared for Watt, who has three sacks, eight quarterback hits, and eight tackles for losses, and a tendency to bat down balls at the line of scrimmage. Shanahan talked about the importance of getting a good scout-team look, an aspect sometimes overlooked.
"It's extremely important every week," Shanahan said. "With someone like (Watt), I'd like to say it's more important. But, you're not going to find someone to give you that look. They're definitely not going to be on scout team if you do. But, it's important every week.
"Just what we ask of our scout team, we run very similar run plays each week, but the techniques are totally different: whether you're playing against a 3-4, two-gap team or whether you're playing against guys who just shoot their gaps. You've got to change things up and how you block stuff every single week, and you really have just three practices to do it. So, you need good looks from those (scout team) guys. They've got to study the other people on tape. We've had a good group of guys who have helped us a lot this week."
Left tackle Jake Matthews, like Schraeder, commended Starr for the job he's done portraying Watt.
"He's very active, which has been helpful because that's the way Watt plays," Matthews said. "He gives good looks. It's been interesting."
But Falcons strongside linebacker Brooks Reed, who played next to Watt in Houston, did offer Starr one suggestion this week.
"I told him he needs to do some swim moves and stuff, man," Reed said. "He needs to start replicating that. That's all I would do."
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