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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Years of preseason unpredictability has taught Texans coach Gary Kubiak not to put pen to pad this early.
A couple of sharpened pencils and erasers with a lot of rubber are definitely the way to go.
That certainly has to be Kubiak’s approach as he watches his young receiving corp continue to grow in talent and potentially in the number he may have to keep come the regular season in a few weeks. Kubiak and his staff went into Saturday’s second preseason game against San Francisco in hopes of getting closer to paring the receiving corp to a reasonable top five.
But after the performance of second-year receiver Lestar Jean and the Trindon Holliday as Mr. Excitement as a return man, Kubiak has to be wondering now how to justify keeping six receivers on the 53-man roster when the time comes soon.
“I hope I have that problem,” Kubiak said of zeroing in on the number of receivers to keep following the Texans 20-9 win over the 49ers on Saturday night at Reliant Stadium. “I hope they are all standing here in two weeks and we feel like `How are we going to let this guy go or that guy go?’ then that means we are a dang good football team.”
But in the meantime, it looks like Kubiak and his staff will have quite a dilemma on their hands. The decision to keep six receivers on the 53-man roster will mean letting depth slip somewhere else. It could also mean a guy like veteran running back Justin Forsett may not be kept because his value as a third back is as a special teams player.
Those are the tough decisions Texans may have to make as a raw but talented group of receivers begin to take shape. The Texans entered training camp with four receiver roster spots guaranteed with star playmaker Andre Johnson, reliable veteran Kevin Walter and rookie draft picks DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin. There figured to be six unproven players vying for that fifth receiver spot.
That was before Holliday, who at 5-foot-5 isn’t viable in the offense, began to show signs of being a homerun hitter as both a punt and kickoff return specialist. Then there is the sleek 6-foot-3 Jean who is still learning how to play receiver in the NFL but his freakish talent is real.
Both had their moment Saturday night. Jean benefitted from the limited snap count Johnson is on during the preseason, catching a game-high four receptions for 42 yards, which included a nine-yard touchdown while working primarily with the No.1 offense.
But the night belonged to Holliday who sealed the win with a spectacular 87-yard punt return for a touchdown with 10:51 remaining in the game. Last week, Holliday had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers.
Holliday seemed like a long shot to make the Texans roster as only a return specialist coming into training camp. But back-to-back weeks of breath-taking returns has quickly turned him into fan favorite around Reliant Stadium and most importantly the type of game-breaker the Texans can ill-afford to give up on.
“That’s two weeks in a row and as I have said, he’s going to have to do that for this team if you are going to keep a returner,” Kubiak said. “He has practiced well, he’s making big plays and that is just a huge plus for us field position-wise. We’ve still got a couple of weeks to go but he is definitely making a tremendous case for himself.”
The same can be said for Martin and Jean, who are vying for the playing time that seemed headed Posey’s way as the second-round draft pick out of Ohio State. But Martin and Jean have stepped up in practice and in both preseason games while Posey has seemed to drop back to third team.
For the second week in a row, Martin showed why he has jumped from guy who was expected to be just a punt return specialist this season to someone who could command critical playing time in the offense. Martin started off the night with a 22-yard reception over the middle on the third play of the game. He finished up with three catches for 36 yards after shifting this week from slot to wideout.
But it was Jean who showed the flare for the spectacular. During the series late in the second quarter, Jean caught three passes from quarterback Matt Schaub which included the nine-yard touchdown pass on a quick slant that sent the Texans into halftime with a 10-6 lead. Jean also had catches of 10 and 14 yards during that series.
“He’s making plays,” Kubiak said. “As a receiver it’s very difficult because you don’t really know exactly when the ball is coming your way, it’s depending on coverage. But for some reason this guy continues to step up every time he gets a chance. He’s pushing to get on the field for this team and continues to make a good case for himself and tonight was no different.”
For now, Jean can’t be comfortable. He missed all of last season with a shoulder injury which puts him technically in the same spot as guys like Bryant Johnson, Jeff Mahel, Mario Louis, Juaquin Iglesias and Holliday as guys hoping they are good enough to make the team.
Still he seems to have the right approach.
“It’s a lot of pressure but I feel that it’s going to take care of itself,” said Jean, who came out of Florida Atlantic last year. “You just go out there and have fun and if I make the team or if I don’t I just know that I had fun.”