The improbable return of defensive end J.J. Watt took another step Friday morning when the Cardinals designated him to return from Injured Reserve, opening a 21-day practice window for the veteran.
Watt can be activated to the 53-man roster anytime in the next three weeks.
Despite the designation, Watt was not present on the practice field during the open portion of work Friday morning.
"It's procedural," coach Kliff Kingsbury said after practice. "He's done all he can do in the training room and weight room. We'll get him back out there and working him through some things. But he's the type who rehabs just how you'd assume he would. No one has ever seen anybody go at it quite like he has in the last couple months.
"It's been awe-inspiring to watch him every day. It's always good to have him back on the field."
Watt has not spoken on the subject but did tweet out a gif of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the movie "Predator."
Watt has been out since tearing up his shoulder against the Texans Oct. 24. At the time, it was potentially season-ending, but the Cardinals never closed the door on a Watt return and Watt has been mostly silent on the subject, save for an interview with a young Houston YouTube journalist.
In that interview, Watt said he was originally told it would be a four-to-six month injury.
"I'm sitting there and I can easily pout and easily say, 'Woe is me, four-to-six months, I'll do what I have to do,' " Watt said. "But instead I said, 'Nah, I'm not going to accept that.' "
Kingsbury didn't give any hints as to how soon Watt could be activated off IR, although he did clarify that Watt will not play against Seattle. It'll make next week's practices ones to watch with Watt's participation.
"He's working hard," center Rodney Hudson said. "It speaks to how much he cares about the game and how much he cares about getting back and getting to play on Sundays."
In seven games before his injury, Watt only had one sack, five tackles for loss and two passes defensed, but he was clearly a presence on the defensive line and had seemingly found his comfort level in the Cardinals' defense just as he went down.
"Having J.J. (potentially) back is huge," safety Jalen Thompson said. "He's a leader for us and just having a guy like that on the defensive line getting pressure on the QB, it's always a big help."
Watt isn't the only potential re-addition to the defensive line; Kingsbury said he still expects Jordan Phillips (knee) to come back, although it wasn't sure if it would be the first round of the playoffs or beyond.
Watt is in the same situation, and "it was just time to get him back on the grass," Kingsbury said.
The veteran already had made some road trips and was integrated back into the locker room and weight room. Having him on the practice field can only be a positive heading into the postseason.
"It's big time to have that type of player to come back and be around your guys," Kingsbury said. "Everybody in this building has the utmost respect for what he's accomplished and how he works and what he's about. He leads through his actions and his words.
"Guys definitely perk up anytime '99' is around."
The Cardinals also elevated cornerback Kevin Peterson to the roster from the practice squad as a Covid replacement on Friday, and activated safety Javon Hagan from the practice squad Covid list.