Wide receiver Andre Johnson's groin injury has put the Texans' young wide receivers on an accelerated learning curve.
With Johnson expected to miss about a week of training camp practice, second-year pro Lestar Jean is working as a starter. Jean and rookies DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin are among the players vying to be the Texans' third wide receiver behind Johnson and Kevin Walter.
"It's going to be interesting because now we're in a situation where Andre is going to miss time, so we bumped them all up," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Monday. "We kind of move them around each day. There's a lot of young ability, and I think there's no telling who our five or six will be. I think they all have the ability to make this team, so we're going to have to see how they hold up and who makes the plays."
The Texans have 11 wide receivers on their roster. Johnson, fellow 10th-year veteran Walter and rookie draft picks Posey and Martin are locks to make the team. Veteran Bryant Johnson, signed a day before training camp, is the Texans' only receiver besides Andre Johnson and Walter who has caught a pass in the NFL.
Jean, who went undrafted in 2011 out of Florida Atlantic, is in position to not just make the team but be a significant contributor in 2012. He also worked as a starter during OTAs (organized team activities), which Johnson missed with a knee injury.
"I love his size," Kubiak said of the 6-3, 205 receiver. "I like big guys in this league. I think it is an advantage. He's very smart. He can play a lot of places. He did do some go things on special teams. It's a unique situation because he hasn't played, but he's still sitting here operating as a starter. He's never even taken a snap. That kind of tells you where we're at. He's going to have to play big for us to be successful and keep moving forward, so we're counting on him."
Kubiak said it's also important for Posey, a third-round pick from Ohio State, and Martin, a fourth-round pick from Michigan State, to get more reps in Johnson's absence. He said the same about third-year wide receiver Trindon Holliday, a return specialist who has improved dramatically as an offensive player this offseason.
"We give everybody a lot of reps," Kubiak said. "It's an opportunity for a lot of guys.
"Kevin and them have their responsibilities to continue to get better and play well. Lestar is getting a great opportunity. This morning, the Jackson kid (undrafted rookie Jerrell Jackson) made some nice plays. I think it's going to be a very competitive situation."
Because Andre Johnson is 31 and has several injuries in the past two years, and because the Texans released Jacoby Jones earlier this offseason, the competition for the third receiver spot is a focal point of the defending AFC South champs in 2012.
"It's huge," Kubiak said. "I think our whole team is kind of watching it, too, because they know our identity is going to change at that position for the first time in a while around here. Players sense that. They really watch those battles closely. We'll let them prove to their teammates that they're the guy."
Through three days of camp, quarterback Matt Schaub is encouraged by what he has seen from the Texans' young receivers.
"They're all doing such a good job," Schaub said. "There are so many things that each one of them bring. Lestar is doing really well. He's still a young guy; he's really progressing nicely into a good veteran receiver for us. Keshawn Martin is doing a great job for us. He is really going to be able to help us. DeVier is doing a great job learning everything. We're asking him to do a lot from the outside perspective and from the inside and everything that he's doing.
"We've got a talented group of guys and mentally, they're trying to do the best they can with everything that's thrown at them. Each day, it's a lot of information and they're really handling it really well. Obviously, there are going to be growing pains as we go through practices here mentally, just working through everything. We ask our receivers to do a lot of adjustments with their routes and we do a lot of motioning and a lot of formation adjustments. It's a lot for them, but they're doing a great job handling it."