Lestar Jean has had few opportunities to play in a game in his young NFL career. He has made the most of each one.
The second-year wide receiver led the Texans with four catches for 42 yards on Saturday night in their preseason victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Reliant Stadium. Jean, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, now has eight catches for 145 yards (18.1 average) in three career preseason games.
"Some guys, when the lights go on, they get a little bit better," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Sunday. "It seems like this is that type of young man."
Big plays seem to find Jean (6-3, 210), who ran a 4.52 40-yard dash last spring before going undrafted out of Florida Atlantic. He had two catches for 53 yards in the Texans' 2011 preseason opener against the New York Jets, then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the next game. He had two catches for 50 yards last Saturday at Carolina.
"He was having a good camp last year," Kubiak said. "He goes out there against the Jets and all of a sudden, boom, he makes a couple of big plays. It's happened this preseason again. That's what you're looking for. Some guys find a way to take it up a notch once you hit the field on game day, and it seems like that's what he tends to do, so that's a good sign. "
All eight of Jean's preseason catches in his career have gone for first downs.
"He's a big guy, he can stretch the field, he can run. Got good hands," Texans Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. "He's still young, but as you can see, he's just a gamer. Every time he's been out on the game field, he's making big plays."
One of Jean's four catches on Saturday was his first NFL touchdown, a nine-yard pass from Matt Schaub in the final minute of the second quarter. In the locker room a couple hours later, Jean said he couldn't even remember the last time he had scored in a game.
"I was just like, 'Man, it finally happened,'" he said. "It's been a long road, being hurt last year and being undrafted, not getting recruited out of high school. It's just been a long journey for me, man. I was just happy that God blessed me to be able to do it."
While he was on injured reserve last season, Jean came to Reliant Stadium daily at 6 a.m. for rehab before team meetings. He said he approached it like a redshirt year, a chance to learn the offense and learn how to be a professional.
This offseason, Jean was at Reliant seemingly every day to work out on his own, preparing himself for whatever opportunity might come in the fall. During the Texans' six-week summer break between OTAs and training camp, he was a regular at the players-only throwing sessions that Schaub organized at the University of Houston. Kubiak said Jean was "in Matt's hip pocket."
"He's been doing a great job," Schaub said. "He's going to be a big-time player for us in this league. He's been playing real consistently well. The more he does that, the more comfortable he gets. He could be a really good asset for us."
Johnson, who has embraced more of a mentorship role this offseason with the Texans' younger receivers, said much of the same.
"What he does in the game, he's done in practice, so it's no surprise to anybody around here," Johnson said. "He's young. He went through an injury last year. When he played last year, he made plays."
That seems to be the common refrain. As Jean showed on Saturday, and the Saturday before that, and the Monday night against the Jets last August, and offseason practices for the last two years, he has a chance to make a name for himself in a wide receiver corps rife with opportunity behind Johnson and Kevin Walter.
"He continues to make plays," Kubiak said on Saturday. "As a receiver, it's very difficult because you don't really know exactly when the ball is coming your way, depending on coverage. For some reason, this guy just continues to step up every time he gets a chance. He's pushing to get on the field very quickly for this team and continues to make a good case for himself, and tonight was no different."
Added Kubiak on Sunday: "He's gaining confidence with every play that he makes. All the skill is there. As I've said before, I don't think he just has a chance to be a good player. I think he has a chance to be a really good player, so that's what we're pushing him toward."