Rookie wide receiver Keshawn Martin is the Texans' new kick returner.
After Trindon Holliday was released on Wednesday, Texans coach Gary Kubiak announced that Martin, a fourth-round draft pick from Michigan State, will replace Holliday on kickoff and punt returns.
"We have a lot of confidence in him doing that," Kubiak said. "He did it in college. He was excellent doing it... Hopefully, he can give us a boost and get us going a bit."
The Texans rank last in the NFL in kickoff return average (17.6 yards) through five games. Martin (5-11, 190) returned three kicks for touchdowns at Michigan State, including two punts and one kickoff. He averaged 12.2 yards per punt return in his final two seasons with the Spartans.
Martin has practiced returning kicks all season but has yet to return one in a game.
"I've definitely been getting the reps," Martin said. "It's time to go make plays now."
When the Texans drafted Martin 121st overall, it was widely assumed he would be their kick returner right away. Texans special teams coordinator Joe Marciano called Martin, who had a 4.45 40-yard dash and 39.5-inch vertical jump at the NFL Scouting Combine, a "terrific" punt and kickoff returner.
"He plays fast," Marciano said on the final day of the draft. "He's fearless. He's got courage. He doesn't like to run out of bounds. When he got near the sidelines, he looks to cut back or even get three, four, five more yards. Usually, I judge a returner by how they run the middle returns because when you run in the middle, it's not a wall; it's instincts, and he has the instincts. He has running back instincts.
"He can put his foot in the ground and make a move. He can break tackles. He can make you miss. He has the speed to go the distance. He's pretty complete. There are not many holes in him as a returner."
Martin surprised Texans coaches with an impressive training camp at wide receiver, vaulting himself into a four-man rotation with Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Lestar Jean. Holliday returned three kicks for touchdowns in the preseason while averaging 39.9 yards on kickoffs and 21.1 yards on punts, earning a roster spot as a return specialist.
Holliday was unable to recapture his preseason magic in the regular season, averaging only 19.4 yards per kickoff return and 9.2 yards per punt return. That, coupled with Jean returning this week from a knee injury that kept him out of the last two games, prompted the Texans to release Holliday and go with Martin.
"We were working with four receivers there for a period of time with Lestar being out, so I was concerned of putting too much on (Martin's) plate," Kubiak said. "I have him playing two spots for a rookie, which is tough. If I had thrown that on him, I just felt like I was doing too much to him too early. I think he's made a lot of progress. The fact that Lestar is back and will be ready to go this week, now we have five healthy receivers. I felt like we can give Keshawn a little bit more."
Kubiak and the Texans hope Martin can give them a little bit more in their struggling return game. He'll get his first chances to do so in the national spotlight on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
"It's going to be fun for me," Martin said. "It's going to be my first returns in the NFL. I'm going to be excited. I'm going to be ready.
"Obviously, the coaching staff here has confidence in me, so I just want to go out there and make some plays for 'em."