Andre Johnson Had a Big Season, Didn’t Get Enough Help Outside
Going into the 2012 season, one of the biggest questions in training camp for the Houston Texans was who would fill the role of the third wide receiver. Veteran starters Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter were returning, but after releasing Jacoby Jones and Bryant Johnson, the other three receiving spots were open. Houston drafted two wide receivers in the 2012 NFL draft. In the third round they selected DeVier Posey out of Ohio St. and in the fourth round took Keshawn Martin out of Michigan St. They were two of three young receivers, second year man Lestar Jean being the third, that the Texans were counting on in 2012. Martin had the strongest preseason and training camp of the three, and emerged as the third receiver going into the season. His primary contribution to the team would be as a returner, as he handled punts all season and kickoffs for the majority of it after return specialist Trindon Holliday was released.
While the three young guys were unknowns going into the season, the same was said about Johnson as well. Not often do you hear a player of Johnson's caliber doubted, but many questioned what type of impact he would have after an injury ravaged 2011 season in which he missed nine full games and parts of two others with leg injuries. Many people felt that Johnson's best days were behind him, and that he had gotten 'old' at 31 and was no longer a big time receiver. All he did was put those doubts to bed with one of the best seasons of his career. Johnson's play in 2012 not only showed that he hadn't gotten old and that his best days weren't behind him, but also that he was still one of the best wide receivers in the NFL He had his usual All-Pro season that the Texans counted on. However, he needed more help out of the rest of the receiving core. The young receivers had their expected growing pains in their first seasons of playing time, but also showed flashes of potential, particularly late in the season. That should have the Texans brass not only excited, but expecting more out of the group as a whole next season.
Andre Johnson was back and better than ever this season. After playing in only seven games in 2011, he started all sixteen games this season and was the same as he ever was. Johnson finished 2012 with 112 receptions for 1,598 yards and 4 touchdowns. The 112 catches were fourth in the league while his 1,598 yards were second only to Calvin Johnson. He became only the third player in NFL history to have three seasons of 100+ catches and 1,500 or more yards, joining Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison in that select club. He became the first player to play ten seasons with the Texans. In his tenth season, the man many felt was slowing down, had the best year of his career and set a new career high for receiving yardage. Johnson started in his sixth Pro Bowl, and was no doubt the Texans MVP on offense. His best game of the season, and also the best game of his career, came in week 11 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 14 catches, 273 yards and game winning 48 yard touchdown were all apart of a November that saw Johnson win the AFC Offensive Player of the Month award.
Walter, like Johnson, just completed his tenth year in the league. Known for being tough, dependable and smart, he held the role of the Texans #2 receiver yet again. None of the trio of young wideouts was ready to replace him yet and Walter held the job, starting all 16 games in 2012. His numbers were up slightly this season, as he had 41 receptions for 518 yards and two touchdowns. Those were about the same as his 39 receptions for 474 yards and 3 scores in 2011. Of course that season, he put himself forever in Texans lore by catching the game winning touchdown pass that gave the Texans their first ever division title and playoff berth. While not making any plays as dramatic as that one this season, Walter was once again a reliable target for Matt Schaub and a strong blocker in the run game. He is not much of a big play threat on the outside however, and that was one of the roles the Texans hoped that the young receivers would fill. He did show that he was still capable of making plays. He had a 52 yard touchdown catch in the week 3 win at Denver, and his best game came against the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens. He had 4 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in Houston's 43-13 victory.
The Texans drafted Martin in the fourth round and were excited about his big play potential that he showed at Michigan St. They mainly were expecting him to replace Jones in the return game, but his emergence at receiver in training camp and Holliday's big preseason returning kicks changed that plan initially. Martin earned the third wide receiver spot. He had only 10 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season, but his role changed early on. After Houston released Holliday after week 5, Martin became the full time kickoff and punt returner for the Texans. That became his big role on the team in 2012, and Martin did a good job returning kicks. He averaged 23.9 yards on kickoff returns and was fifth in the league in punt return average at 12.1. He had a long return of 71 yards. Look for Martin to be even more involved with the offense next season, as the Texans would like for him to touch the ball in as many ways possible. He also had 4 rushes for 53 yards on end arounds and reverses.
Jean was the receiver many Texans fans were excited about going into the season. He was the breakout star of the 2011 preseason as an undrafted rookie before going down with a season ending shoulder injury in the preseason finale. Jean returned this season, but did not have the impact that many felt that he was capable of. After getting beat out by Martin for the third receiver spot, he saw his snaps limited in the 2012 season. Jean finished with 6 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. His best game, and a glimpse of the big play capability that he can bring, came against the Tennessee Titans in week 13. He had a 54 yard catch for a touchdown in which he took a slant route across the middle of the field and outraced the Tennessee secondary down the sideline and into the end zone. Jean has shown potential in training camp, practice and preseason, now he just has to translate that onto the regular season on a consistent basis.
Posey was the last of the Texans young receivers to come on in 2012. He missed most of his senior season at Ohio St. in 2011 while serving an eight game suspension for receiving improper benefits. The Texans still saw fit to draft him in the third round of last year’s draft. He started this season playing mostly special teams, particularly kick coverage. He scored his first career touchdown when he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone in week 6 vs the Green Bay Packers. Posey began to receive more snaps on offense in the second half of the season, as he showed the progression in practice that the coaches were looking to see. By the end of the season, he was getting regular snaps with the first team offense. That culminated in his best game of the season, the divisional playoff loss to the New England Patriots. He had his first touchdown catch in that game, but unfortunately, he also went down with an achiles injury late in the fourth quarter. The good news is that Posey should recover in time for the 2013 regular season. That would be a huge benefit for Houston, as he has the potential to be the big play threat opposite Johnson that they need and were lacking in 2012.