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Walter silencing doubters

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Kevin Walter knows that the NFL has a way of being very unfair, even heartbreaking.

The veteran wide receiver earned a starting spot opposite Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson in the Texans' training camp this season. Finally, he was getting an opportunity to show what he could do with regular playing time.

Then, along game rookie Jacoby Jones with a sparkling training camp and suddenly Walter could have seen his NFL dream fade back to the sidelines.
Jones was competing for a starting job and he wasn't going to replace Johnson.

Walter didn't blink at the added competition. He welcomed Jones.

"Jacoby came in and made some plays in preseason and did well on special teams, and he did well on offense," Walter said. "That makes everyone better. It carries over to pushing me and pushing Andre (Davis). It even pushes Andre Johnson. He's seeing what's around him. It's going to make him better. It's going to make me better."

{QUOTE}Johnson has been inactive for three games with a knee injury, leaving the Texans' receiving corps scrambling.

The remaining receivers have scrambled very well, especially Walter.

"We ask him (Walter) to line up in a lot of different places on the football field from the standpoint that he knows every position in our three wide and four wide sets," receivers coach Larry Kirksey said. "That right there alone really makes the rest of the guys around him better because he can always help those guys out with how to get to the line and the things they need to do to get the job done."

Walter had a career best two-game production with 144 yards against Atlanta and Miami. He had 77 yards against Atlanta and 67 against the Dolphins. Walter had a nine-yard gain on his second career rushing attempt against Miami.

"Last year, I played a lot of offense, but I didn't get much opportunity to make some plays and catch the ball," Walter said. "I played on special teams last year. Coach (Gary Kubiak) knows I'm here to do whatever role they want me to fill.

"This year, I've had an opportunity to catch more passes and move the chains and help the offense."

Walter caught only four passes before Johnson's exit. He's become more valuable in the last two games, keeping the Texans' passing game moving. He's also been valuable in other areas.

"I just think he's been great from the standpoint in our offense," Kirksey said. "When Andre (Johnson) went down, he picked it up and he's made some big plays down the field.

"In the run game, he's been just unbelievable as far as things we ask him to do in the run game, so it's nice to see him making plays down the field."

Jones came quietly into training camp from Lane College, observing the rookie rules of respect for the veterans. Then, he bolted into the spotlight on special teams and played prominently in receiving roles. Lately, he's been sidelined with a shoulder injury, reduced to a cheerleading role for Walter and the rest of the receivers.

"Training camp was competition, but it was good," Jones said. "(Kevin) helped me out a lot. Kevin was telling me to stay focused, learn the playbook and play your game.

"Now, every game I tell him to make plays. I've watched him since OTAs. He goes out there and runs great routes. He's got great hands. He's got great bursts."

Jones no longer follows rookie decorum either. He teases Walter about Walter's speed.

"We kind of tease him about running fast, but he calls himself the Lightning Bolt," Jones said.

Walter's response?

"He just thinks he teases me," Walter said. "He was real quiet when he first came in. Then he started making plays and now he's always talking. Funny how that happens. But he works hard and all the receivers work hard. We can all make plays. We have a great group."

André Davis got his chance to play when Johnson was injured. Both he and Walter recognized this might be their last chance to be productive.

"We are very competitive," Davis said. "I talked with Kevin when I first got here in April. We knew that if any other receiver came in here, we all had the same mindset that we knew Eric Moulds had left.

"There was an opening on that other side and we all would be as competitive as possible to earn that spot."

The good part about Johnson's injury is that it gave Walter and Davis their chance and they've taken advantage of their opportunities.

"Before the season, people had question marks about this receiving
group," Walter said. "Can these guys make plays? We don't have a solid No. 2
guy. Can he make plays?

"There's no question in my mind right now, and hopefully a lot of people's minds that they see we can make plays. We know how to be pros, work hard and make plays when called upon."

Jones and Davis have plenty of speed. Walter smiles weakly when asked about the speed competition.

"I feel I can run down field and create the big play," Walter said. "But if people want to label me a possession receiver, they can do that, but I feel I can do more than just being a possession receiver.

"As long as I'm out there making plays, they can call me whatever they want. Jacoby messes with me a little bit sometimes on the (end) arounds and the different reverses, he gets on me a little bit. But I had a nice reverse last week. When I get the ball in my hands, I can make something happen."

Three seasons with Cincinnati and last season on special teams didn't discourage Walter.

"Never in my career have I felt that way," he said. "I believe in hard work and that it pays off. I believe in being patient and your time will come. But when it comes, you have to make plays. In this league, you only get one or two opportunities."

Davis says he doesn't get into the speed jokes with Walter.

"Kevin knows where he stands," Davis said. "We all have our role and where we stand. That's what makes our group not stop playing. We all bring a little something different to the table.

"We all make certain that when we get in the game that we're doing our best."

Coach Gary Kubiak alerted Kirksey to Walter this past offseason.

"Coach Kubiak felt very strongly about Kevin when I first came here," Kirksey said. "He said, 'Hey, this guy will work, he's tough and he's a good competitor.'

"So far he's done everything that coach Kubiak said he would do."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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