HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – While it doesn’t seem quite so long ago, Texans All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson often thinks back to his rookie season when there weren’t any veteran wideouts on the new franchise’s roster to show him the ropes.
Everything Johnson learned about playing receiver in the NFL, he had to absorb on the fly as rookie out of Miami 10 years ago. Johnson had always hoped if he was fortunate enough to become a veteran receiver in this league that he would make the transition from college to the NFL much smoother for his young guys.
“I really didn’t have a veteran guy to look up to when I first got here so it was kind of tough at first,” Johnson recalls. “You have to learn a lot of things on your own. I was able to see veteran guys during the offseason and talk to them a little bit, and talk to guys I played against and they would tell me things they saw in my game. I think that is a good thing when you have a veteran guy here who has been through a lot and they can help you and show you the ropes.”
Since OTAs in May, Johnson has been a constant for the receiving corp. even when he wasn’t able to be on the field with them due to injuries. Once the play or drill was over and the coaches offered their sometimes brutal assessment, Johnson was waiting not far off to give the young receivers a much less explicit explanation of what they did wrong and how to correct it the next time.
Unlike the coaching staff, Johnson has not only been where the Texans young receiving corp. is trying to head, he is still there. That and the fact that Johnson is a five-time Pro Bowl and one of the premiere receivers in the league certainly carries weight.
“It’s huge,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of the young receivers having Johnson to learn from. “You can tell guys something until you’re blue in the face, but they need to see examples. As a coach, you can say this is how I want it done or do it this hard, but there’s nothing better than somebody out there that’s doing it that way who has been successful. They see that that’s the key to their future too. Those go hand-in-hand.”
Jean, who is certainly generating excitement this preseason with his big-play ability, agrees.
“It helps a lot,” said Jean, a second-year receiver. “He’s a great player and he’s been doing it at a high level for a long time so he is always giving tips and things.”
But that isn’t to suggest that the 10-year veteran isn’t also critical of his young counterparts when it’s warranted. He’s often confronted with that tricky line of being straight while also trying to remain encouraging.
When Johnson finds himself torn about being critical, he thinks back to his younger days and what he wished had in terms of a mentor and straight honesty.
“That’s the biggest thing when you tell people the truth I think they respect you for it,” Johnson said. “I don’t have a problem with them telling me the truth even though they are a rookie. If they see something I want them to tell me, I want to know because I want to get better as a player.
“I think if you don’t tell them the truth, tell them what they are doing something good and they are not then they are not going to get better as a player. That’s the one thing we do around here is we tell each other the truth.”
That truth has perhaps been one of the biggest aids in transforming what seemed to be one of the Texans biggest flaws into what could be a strength this season. The Texans have been in search of a complementary wideout to Johnson essentially since he arrived but with no luck.
The hope was that the Texans might attempt to land a big-time free agent receiver this offseason not only to take some of the pressure off of Johnson but maybe even replace him after the veteran receiver missed nine games last season due to hamstring injuries and was held out of OTAs and minicamp because of a knee procedure.
The Texans looked at a couple of veterans but in the end decided to come into camp with their two rookie draft picks, Posey and Martin, and their intriguing undrafted free agent from a year ago (Jean) who missed all of last season after suffering an injury during the preseason.
So far this preseason the decision to go with the youth movement seems to a wise one, even for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations. Martin and Jeans have shown flashes of being capable receivers that quarterback Matt Schaub can rely on this season in addition to veteran receiver Kevin Walter and Johnson.
Jean, who is a sleek 6-foot-three receiver, has perhaps generated the most excitement with his size, speed and ability to catch the ball in traffic.
Posey, the Texans second round draft pick out of Ohio State, is certainly behind Martin and Jean at this point but the hope is that he will eventually catch up and become a reliable target at some point this season, too.
Not surprisingly, Johnson has been pleased with what he has seen from the young receiving corp. through the first two preseason games.
“They’ve all played well, they had some mistakes but that’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “That’s the biggest thing I told them don’t worry about the mistakes, we can fix that when we come in the film room. The biggest thing is going out and playing hard.”