LOS ANGELES -- Jonathan Greenard is fully healthy again, displaying a burst and confidence in his surgically repaired foot.
And that represents bad news for quarterbacks facing the Texans' defensive end.
In the wake of an abbreviated breakthrough season last year, Greenard is aiming even higher after recording eight sacks last season in a dozen starts. The former third-round draft pick from Florida has made a full recovery from an offseason clean-up foot surgery. He's down to a lean 255 pounds after adopting a stricter diet and workout regimen.
Greenard appears primed for a big third NFL season.
"It feels good, body is feeling good, mind and spiritual, it's feeling good," Greenard said. "The foot is good. I just had a clean-up thing. I had been dealing with it for a while. It feels good. I haven't had any pain since the surgery. I'm ready to move past it.
"That was the thing that was weighing on me a lot. We got it cleaned up and now we're good to go. I can plant and explode off the ball. That helps me overall so I can set up guys to get what I want."
Greenard is a student of the game who sets up his moves akin to a chess match.
"Football is mental," Greenard said. "You have to be able to use film study and know what they're going to do. That's how you win as a pass rusher. You have to use your head, hands, and feet all working together."
Whether it's his signature long-arm move, gaining leverage by shoving an offensive tackle backward with a powerful shove of their shoulder pads before disengaging to sack the quarterback, a spin move, bull rush, speed rush, rip move, or swim move, Greenard has strong technique working in his favor.
Greenard managed to have nine tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hits in just 52% of the overall defensive snaps.
"Last year, he had limited amount of time on the field, but he was productive, so it's time for him to take a step," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "We need a few of our guys to take that next step to where you're really talking about them, and Jonathan has the ability to do that.
"Jonathan is a legitimate outside defensive end in the league. I'm anxious to see how far he can go. He's a big part of what we're going to do this year."
Greenard looks significantly quicker and is a constant threat to sack the quarterback.
"I've trimmed up," Greenard said. "My body fat is way down. I feel explosive. Look good, feel good, play good. I had to cut back on a lot of stuff on my diet. When I was recovering from the foot surgery, I wanted to make sure I didn't get big and fat and I stayed on top of my diet. I cut out starches and replaced them with greens. You can't eat a big old burger or some pizza because it's going to stick to you."
Greenard is a classic tweener. He's a student of the game whose first-step quickness tells a different story than his ordinary 4.87 40-yard dash time. It's Greenard’s 10-yard split of 1.71 seconds that's impressive. His first-step quickness, violent power, and ability to create leverage allow him to consistently win at the line of scrimmage. He combines strength, quickness, and heavy hands to control blockers to create big plays.
During a four-game span last October, Greenard had a sack every game (six total). He was on pace for well over 10 sacks before the injuries impacted his season.
Greenard's foot passed another test, checking a box when he made it out of the Texans' preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints unscathed after appearing in a few plays. His playing time will likely expand against the Los Angeles Rams on Friday night at SoFi Stadium.
“Yes, Jonathan finished the season injured, and he's healthy," Smith said. "So we wanted to get him a few reps. That's the case for our guys that we feel pretty comfortable with and we know what their role will be. I don't have to see them all throughout the preseason to feel comfortable. We don't have to see that to feel comfortable with that. Jonathan may get a few more plays this week."
Sacking elusive Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray twice in a game last year, Greenard is intent on providing a consistent presence throughout the season.
"My No. 1 goal is making it through 17 games and being there for my team every single game," Greenard said. I understand nobody cares about that," Greenard said. "This is a new year. I could have one sack, 10 sacks, don't matter what it was.
"At the end of the day, we are all going to do that collectively, and that's going to help us better for the team. And that way we can move forward and get where we want to go."
Greenard uses his superior arm length to keep blockers at bay and prevent them from getting their hands on his body. He redirects his charge adeptly and is in constant motion, making him an extremely difficult blocking assignment.
“I’ve had long arms pretty much my whole life,” Greenard said. “When they introduced the move to me, it was like, ‘Wow, this move actually does work.’ One arm is longer than the other one, so I’ve been trying to perfect that and building, moving forward, building off of that move, it’s going to be a benefit for me.”
Although he wasn't able to participate in an annual pass rushing summit with private coach Brandon Jordan, a pass-rushing specialist at Michigan State, Greenard still attended the sessions to watch and learn.
"Jon stepped up a lot," Jordan said in a telephone interview. "He looked good. He worked hard. It's just the beginning. He was fighting injuries last season. He's got a long way to grow. For him to put up the numbers he put up, his upside is out of the roof."
Greenard's average as a pass rusher is incredibly high. At one point during the first half of last season, the Georgia native was leading the NFL with a sack for every 13.7 pass-rushing snaps played. That's a strong batting average.
He's been more outspoken at practice this season, even yelling "Ball game" after a defensive shutdown of Mills and the offense.
"I see a confident guy," Smith said. "First off, you don't talk unless you feel confident about who you are as a football player and what you can do, and sometimes it takes that leader to get things going a little bit. You expect those kind of things from Jonathan. When you talk, you need to be able to make plays, and he can do that."
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.