RICHMOND, Virginia — J.J. Watt had just finished a 2 1/2-hour practice when he headed for the ball toss machine.
Standing about 10 yards away, the Houston Texans' All-Pro defensive end and occasional touchdown-maker positioned himself in front of the machine and caught pass after pass, all using only his right hand.
Already voted the league's best player by his peers, Watt doesn't buy into the publicity, choosing instead to do extra work during the Texans' second joint workout with the Washington Redskins on Friday.
"My goal is always to create the best athlete possible, so it's focusing on hand-eye coordination," the 26-year-old Watt, a one-time tight end, said of the drill.
Last season, the Texans turned to the 6-foot-5, 289-pound Watt three times in goal-line situations, and all three passes he caught went for touchdowns. He intercepted one pass and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown, and had 20.5 sacks to earn his second defensive player of the year award.
Coach Bill O'Brien said the Texans recognize Watt's value enough to monitor how much he does in practice.
"You know, during different periods he will get more reps than he will in certain other periods," O'Brien said. "I am not going to get into the exact way we do it, but we definitely monitor how many reps he is getting. He is in fantastic shape, and he can go all day, but I think it is a long season and we have got to do that."
Watt said he trusts the coach on the long-term plan.
"I trust the plan that we do have," he said "I think it's going to be very beneficial and just from the results we're already seeing so far, it's been great."
The Texans drafted Jadaveon Clowney first overall a year ago but never got to see how the heralded pass rusher from South Carolina would impact, or foil, the attention paid to Watt on the other side. Clowney played in just four games, recording seven tackles, before being shelved for the season following knee surgery. He remains sidelined, but O'Brien said Friday "he's going to be back at some point."
Meanwhile, Watt welcomes the addition of nose tackle Vince Wilfork to the Texans, and keeps working to get better.
"There's about a billion things I'd like to get better at," he said. "I always say, and it's the absolute truth, when I watch the film I click over the good plays real fast. All I see when I watch the film is the negative stuff. What I can work on, what I can get better at and sure, everybody sees the highlights, everybody sees the great plays.
"It's awesome, trust me. It's a lot of fun and it's great, but there's still so much to improve upon and when you focus on every little thing, that's when you really start to see improvement."
Anything else would be akin to shirking his duties as a professional athlete, he said.
"Every day I am trying to find some way, somehow, that I can improve myself as an athlete," he said. "I think the day that you start to get complacent, the day that you start to feel like you've made it is the day that you begin your decline."
Watt signed a six-year contract extension worth $100 million before the start of the 2014 season.
"For me, if I don't push the envelope, if I don't go out there and practice my ass off, if I don't go out there every single day and try to be the best athlete I can be, I am cheating myself, I am cheating my teammates, I am cheating my fans, everybody," he said.
Watt, who played college football at Wisconsin, looks to get to the next level.
"I haven't reached my potential yet I am sure, and I hope to find out what that potential is," he said. "They say you reach your prime between the ages of 27 and 33. I am 26, so hopefully it is still ahead. I hope they are right."
Notes: O'Brien gave no update on RB Adrian Foster's recovery from a groin injury. ... O'Brien gave NT Vince Wilfork the day off. ... The Texans have three players with Virginia ties: LT Duane Brown (Virginia Tech), RB Jonathan Grimes (William & Mary) and OLD Lynden Trail (Norfolk State).