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Your Texans: Wide receivers


Wide receiver Andre Johnson flexes his might at Texans training camp.

Andre Johnson is smiling more. His hearty laugh rumbles through the room. It's a good idea that the Texans keep their best offensive player happy and that appears to be the case with the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.

A season of quarterback turmoil is behind him. David Carr has been traded. Johnson has been through offseason training with new quarterback Matt Schaub. It's time to move forward.

"When the deal was made with Matt, the way I looked at it, this was a new start with this team," Johnson said. "You heard different things during the offseason about David, but all that's behind us now."

Schaub made Johnson one of his first get-acquainted calls after arriving in Houston. He wanted to get on the same page quickly.

"We've been here working together for a while now, so I'm just excited about getting things started," Johnson said.

Despite an unsettled 2006 season, Johnson still managed to lead the NFL with 103 catches and set a team record with 1,147 yards. He started in the Pro Bowl. He was second in the NFL in average yards after the catch at 6.1 yards.

Think what he might do with more players around him this season.

{QUOTE}"Guys are competing for jobs," Johnson said. "That's a good thing. As long as you have that competition, you can get better."

Veteran Keenan McCardell brings experience to the Texans' receiving corps. He'll help guide a group of young receivers that includes third-round pick Jacoby Jones, who made a big splash in the Texans' preseason opening loss to Chicago.

The Texans also have added running back Ahman Green to add headaches for opposing defenses.

Kevin Walter will start with Johnson at wide receivers and the Texans expect help from veteran Andre' Davis and special teams standout Jerome Mathis.

It all starts with Johnson.

"I see Andre as a very dominant receiver in this league," McCardell said. "He's at the point right now where he makes himself from being a very good receiver to being a great receiver for a long time.

"This is his time to show that he's a great receiver."

Walter had an impressive 2006 season and likely will step into the other starting receiver spot with Johnson. With Johnson getting plenty of defensive attention, Walter expects to be ready to meet the challenge.

"I don't put pressure on myself," Walter said. "I'll go out and prepare like I have for the past four years in the league. Obviously, Andre is going to get a lot of attention and it's going to open a lot of things for us.

"I think we're going to have a lot more explosive plays and more explosive throws and runs down field. I think we've done a better job of that this year."

The Texans will have speed among their receivers. Davis, Mathis and Jones all have track backgrounds. Jones played at Division II Lane College, where he was an all-purpose back.

Last season, Jones became the only player in Lane history to score in the same season on a reception, rushing attempt, punt and kickoff return. He threw a touchdown pass in 2005 that makes him the only Dragons' player to score in five categories in his college career.

Despite coming from a Division II school, Jones wasn't intimidated in the Texans' preseason opener. He had a big punt return that impressed his coaches.

"I think I'm adjusting well. I'm learning the concepts of the offense," Jones said. "I've got some vets like McCardell and Johnson. They mentor me a little bit."

Jones is agreeable to repeating his college feat of scoring in five categories.

"I'd like to do that if it would help the team," he said. "It was a team thing (at Lane), they helped me out a lot."

Jones has adjusted to the pro style and to Schaub.

"He's a fluid quarterback. He's on time. Everything is precise with him," Jones said. "That was a good adjustment for me too. It's a nice offense. You can't beat it with a stick. Everyone has an opportunity to play."

The Texans started a new era with head coach Gary Kubiak last season.

"This also is our second year in the system," Walter said. "There are a few guys who are new to the system, but you make great strides between your first and second year and you can see that on the field."

McCardell ranks ninth in NFL history with 861 career receptions. His 11,117 career receiving yards are the 18th-most in league history. He's entering his 16th NFL season and hopes to play his 200th career game in the season opener against Kansas City.

McCardell takes his mentor role seriously. One observation is that the receiving corps can't hang all the burden on Johnson.

"I tell the guys we all have to make plays, not just Andre. We all have to make plays to win," McCardell said. "They ask a lot of me, a lot of questions. I like that. I try to give them things that have happened in my career from experience. I might say, you might want to try this. I'll let those guys learn on the fly. If they make a mistake, I'll just tweak it."

McCardell tells the young players how important training camp is.

"Training camp is where you form your team," McCardell said. "A young guy has to understand that, as veterans, when it's getting tight in games, you remember that guy in camp who did what he's supposed to do and you can count on him. That's what a young guy has to do."

And still, it comes back to Johnson.

"He doesn't talk much," Walter said. "He goes out there and works real hard. He's a professional. He doesn't talk smack. It's amazing to see how big the guy is and how he can run and the little things he does.

"I try to incorporate some of that into my game. It's amazing the things he does."

Johnson would like the Texans to follow him into postseason.

"My expectations for myself is to always be better than I was the year before," Johnson said. "That's me. As a team, my goal is to get to the playoffs. Once you get to the playoffs, it's a new season for everyone. Win as many games as you can."

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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