HOUSTON (CBS Houston) — Keshawn Martin came into the Texans OTAs fully expecting to be challenged in the areas of absorbing the massive playbook, learning the nuances of playing receiver in the NFL and dealing with the transition from college to pro ball.
But there was something the former Michigan State star and Michigan native failed to factor his first taste of the NFL and that is the Texas heat. He is making steady progress on the football field the first six days of OTAs, but coping with the mid-90 degree heat hasn’t been as smooth.
“It’s been kind of tough because in Michigan it don’t get this hot, not even during the summer,” Martin said to SportsRadio 610 as he walked off the practice field Thursday afternoon. “The hottest we get is 90, so I’m use to playing the cold but I’ve got to get use to the heat now. I’m going to get better at it.”
The sooner Martin adjusts to the drastic change in heat and humidity, the sooner he will make the kind of progress needed for a rookie who is expected to make a big impact on the team this upcoming season as Jacoby Jones’ replacement at punt returner and maybe even receiver.
So far Martin has displayed flashes because of his burning speed and raw athletic ability. Now the coaching staff is looking for him to pick up the finer points of being an NFL receiver. That is always the most difficult part of the learning curve for rookies.
“I think he’s doing well. He’s got a lot of explosion,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “He needs to learn some things about the pro athlete that he’s going against because sometimes when he separates, he thinks it’s over. You’ve got to keep playing, so that’s just something to get used to but I like his work habits.”
The fourth-round pick has quickly learned that the physical attributes such as 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash and his 39.5 vertical leap by themselves won’t translate into NFL success. It will be the finer points of the game that will make him a quality receiver/punt returner at this level.
The coaches have harped on his effort coming out of his breaks during these first two weeks of OTAs and he is definitely taking heed.
“So far it has been good but I’ve got to get more disciplined with coming out my breaks and going full speed,” said Martin, who caught 66 balls for 777 yards and four touchdowns as a senior at Michigan State last season. “Sometimes I have a tendency to slow down a little bit out of my breaks, but I’ve just got to get better at that and go 100 percent every play.”
Martin and other receivers like fellow rookie receiver DeVier Posey and second-year receivers Juanquin Iglesias and Lester Jean have benefited from veteran Andre Johnson being sidelined for OTAs after having a knee procedure. With Kevin Walter as the only other established receiver on the practice field that has meant increased opportunities for the young guys.
The 5-foo-t-11 and rangy 189-pound Martin has stood out if for no other reason than his blazing speed.
“What really impresses me with Keshawn is he is extremely fluid when he runs, he runs good routes, he sells his routes and he can run fast,” Walter said. “He’s a deep threat for sure and that is impressive to see. He’s getting better each day and that’s fun to watch.”
Martin, who has relished the opportunity to play alongside of Johnson since being drafted by the Texans, attributes a lot his growth in a short period of time from the help provided by Johnson and Walter.
“Those guys have been great, helping up us out,” Martin said. “They are there when we don’t do something right or don’t run a route right they are there to tell us how to do it right. They’ve just been a good help to us.”
Those extra voices have been key during this relatively short span where the rookie receivers are having a great deal thrown at them in a hurry. Kubiak has said he has seen signs of information overload with all of them so far.
Martin readily admits that it has been a lot to absorb.
“It was kind of a lot because in college we’ve got a playbook but it’s nothing like the one we’ve got here,” said Martin, who scored touches running the ball, passing the ball, receiving the ball and on a punt return during productive four-year career at Michigan State. “So it’s a lot of stuff you’ve got to learn but once you learn where you’ve got to lineup and then the play calls and everything else falls into place.”
While feeling a role as a slot receiver or wideout may be in Martin’s future, his first chance to make an impact with the Texans will likely come at punt returner where he replaces the inconsistent Jones. Once one of the fan favorites, Jones fell out of favor last season because of his inability to consistently secure punt returns. It all came to head during last season’s playoffs when Jones had a couple costly muffed punts.
So far Martin has at least taken shown he has the ability to catch punts in the NFL. We probably won’t know if he will be nearly as effective at the NFL level as he was in college returning punts until the pads come on in August.
“He’s automatic catching the ball. That’s the first thing you look at. He’s very confident in doing that,” Kubiak said. “You never find that out until it’s time to go play, but we’ll keep working.”
And that is perfectly fine with Martin, who is just anxious to contribute any way he can to his new team.
“I feel like I bring a lot of versatility to the team so hopefully I can fit in somewhere,” he said.