Coinciding with our Texans TV 2009 season preview series with "Voice of the Texans" Marc Vandermeer, HoustonTexans.com takes a position-by-position look at the Texans in the days leading up to training camp. Our third position preview looks at the Texans' wide receivers.
Key players: Andre Johnson (2008: 115 rec., 1,575 yds., 8 TD); Kevin Walter (2008: 60 rec., 899 yds., 8 TD)
Additions: Glenn Martinez (free agent, Denver Broncos), two rookie free agents
2008 breakdown: In his best season yet, Johnson became the first player since 2003 to lead the league outright in receiving yards and receptions. He put up a career-high 207 receiving yards against the Titans in Week 15 on his way to the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.
Walter continued to make defenses pay for focusing on Johnson, turning in his second consecutive season with at least 60 catches and 800 yards. He and Johnson tied the franchise record with receiving touchdowns apiece. They combined for 2,474 receiving yards, more than any receiver tandem in the league.
Slot receiver David Anderson set career highs with 19 receptions for 241 yards and two touchdowns in his third season. André Davis battled a finger injury but still stretched the field as a deep threat, averaging 16.4 yards on his 13 receptions. After catching 15 passes as a rookie, Jacoby Jones became less involved in the offense in 2008 with only three receptions.
The big question: Can Johnson repeat his 2008 success?
Johnson was untouchable for much of last season. He made an incredible leaping fourth-down catch over Yeremiah Bell to help the Texans beat the Dolphins in Week 6. He owned the month of October, catching 41 passes for 593 yards and two touchdowns. He had 10 catches in seven different games – a new NFL record.
Can he do it again? For as much as the three-time Pro Bowler has accomplished in six years in the NFL, he has yet to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. But given his chemistry with Matt Schaub, the unprecedented talent around him and his determination to lead the Texans to the playoffs, it's hard to imagine anything less than a spectacular 2009 season for Johnson.
"If Andre Johnson does play 16 games… anything is possible because you know he's going to get the football," Vandermeer said. "He's option number one in this offense. And you look at what they're going to be capable of this year, running the ball as well as they were last year, throwing it to Andre Johnson in play action and also throwing the ball to the tight ends, Andre Johnson's going to get the ball an awful lot, and he could possibly do it again."
Camp battle to watch: Davis vs. Jones
Anderson has carved out his niche as the Texans' slot receiver, so it'd be hard to say he's competing with Davis or Jones, two speed guys who play on the outside. The veteran Davis has a knack for making tough catches in traffic and is averaging more than 17 yards per catch in two seasons in Houston. Jones is less polished but a dynamic threat with the ball in his hands. Many considered him a candidate to be the Texans' No. 2 wideout as a rookie two years ago out of Lane College.
"He's got all the talent in the world, and this is going to be a big training camp for him," Vandermeer said. "You want to see how he responds. There's a lot of focus on him not only as a receiver but also as a punt returner. And André Davis, he's no slouch. When Andre Johnson went out for a while in 2007, he really stepped up as a big-play receiver. (The Texans) have luxury issues at wide receiver with everybody healthy, and they're issues that a lot of teams would enjoy having."
Roster size (2009 vs. 2008): The Texans kept five receivers heading into the 2008 season: Johnson, Walter, Anderson, Davis and Jones. They also had Darnell Jenkins and Mark Simmons on the practice squad.
Five seems like the number again in 2009, although competition for the fifth spot might be tough. Kubiak mentioned Jenkins during OTAs as a player who has made great strides, and the Texans like Jenkins as a special teams player. Jenkins spent most of 2008 on the practice squad as a rookie out of Miami before making it to the active roster late in the year. Maybe he sticks there with a solid camp.
Final thought:The top five receivers entering camp have been together since 2007, and Johnson took his already impressive game to another level last year. Johnson's injury in 2007 might have been a blessing in disguise, because it gave more opportunities to guys like Davis and Anderson. That experience and the overall talent level at receiver make it one of the strongest, deepest position groups on the team.