'Dre's playground

It's a designation that hardly fits his personality.

Andre Johnson rarely talks above a whisper. He doesn't strut. He doesn't show people up.

"I just keep it simple and go out and play hard," Houston's wide receiver said Monday.

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But ask opposing defensive backs and they'll relay a different side of Johnson, the one that only surfaces after the ball is snapped.

"I'm physical," Johnson said. "I kind of like going against the physical guys. I don't know why, but I just like it. Maybe it's because of my size."

Maybe?

Let's face it, there aren't many wide receivers as gifted as Johnson who stand 6-2, 230 pounds. Once Johnson breaks from the line of scrimmage, it's no more Mr. Nice Guy. He's the bully of the playground, tossing aside cornerbacks far smaller than him and punishing anybody who tries to tackle him in the open field.

Johnson may not punctuate his plays with a Nelson Muntz "Ha-Ha!" But that doesn't make defensive backs feel any better. Just ask cornerback Dunta Robinson, who faces Johnson in every Texans practice.

"Jamming him at the line, trying to tackle him, trying to run with him, it's all difficult," Robinson said. "When you face a receiver who is 230 pounds, that's just freakish. Coming out of college, I always worried about Terrell Owens and how big he was. But I face this guy every day and he runs the same speed as me. It's crazy."

Johnson caught 66 passes as a rookie but everyone expects those numbers to grow in 2004. He had a terrific off-season and his limited preseason work was impressive. Now Johnson and the rest of his offensive 'mates get to go full throttle and that excites him.

"Going through the preseason, we saw that this offense could go out and do some things," Johnson said. "There were a few times where we had long drives but at the end of the drive we were taken out.

"Now, just let us fly. We get to play the whole game. Now we want to have those long drives every time we get the ball."

First up for Johnson is a pair of young Lone Star State corners in San Diego's Quentin Jammer and Sammy Davis. Jammer, a former Longhorn All-America, is entering his third season. Davis, a former Aggie, started as a rookie in 2003.

"The first meeting this morning we got to see a few plays," Johnson said. "They pretty much get after you. Their cornerbacks are up in your face. Quentin Jammer is a physical guy. He'll get up in your face. And the other guy, Davis, he can get physical at times."

Which is just what Johnson thrives on. Robinson says the Chargers better be ready.

"I'd say 'Fellas, we've got to have a great week of practice,'" Robinson said. "They've got a man coming after them – not just an average receiver. They've got to hunker down and practice hard and get ready for this game.

"I'm glad he's on my team, I can honestly say that."

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