2011 Season in Review: Wide Receivers

A position-by-position look at the Texans’ 2011 season

Season in Review: |

missed nine games in 2011 with hamstring injuries. Not surprisingly, the Texans’ production at wide receiver took a big hit in his absence. Four of the Texans’ six 100-yard receiving games in 2011 came from running backs.

Johnson had 33 catches for 492 yards and two touchdowns in 2011, all career-lows. It was the first time since he was drafted third overall in 2003 that he didn’t lead the Texans in receiving yards. It also was the first time he didn’t catch at least 60 passes, ending his NFL-record streak of eight consecutive seasons to start his career.

A five-time Pro Bowler, Johnson had 21 catches for 316 yards in the first three games before suffering a non-contact hamstring injury in Week 4 against Pittsburgh. He returned in Week 12 at Jacksonville only to hurt his left hamstring a week later against Atlanta. Johnson played in the regular-season finale and had 13 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown in the first playoff games of his career.

had 39 catches for 474 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. He played in 15 games, starting 14. He injured his shoulder in Week 1, prompting speculation that he would miss 8-12 weeks. He missed just one game before returning to the lineup.

had 31 catches for 512 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yarder at Tampa Bay that was the Texans’ longest play of the season. He played in all 16 games with a career-high 10 starts.

appeared in all 16 games and had six catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. Veteran Derrick Mason had six catches for 55 yards in seven games.

Wide Receivers in Review
Starters: Andre Johnson (9 games), Kevin Walter (14), Jacoby Jones (10)

Newcomers: Bryant Johnson (free agent), Derrick Mason (in-season trade), David Anderson (in-season free agent), (undrafted rookie)

Injuries: Andre Johnson (hamstring, Weeks 4-10, 13-16), Walter (shoulder, Week 2), (shoulder, preseason)

Notable number: 120 – Games it took Andre Johnson to reach 700 career receptions, making him the second-fastest player to the milestone in NFL history (Marvin Harrison, 114) and 35th player overall. Johnson’s 700th catch came on an eight-yard pass from rookie quarterback T.J. Yates in the third quarter at Jacksonville in Week 12.

Season highlight: Week 14 at Cincinnati – On a play that will long rank as one of the most memorable in Texans history, Walter caught the game-winning six-yard touchdown pass from Yates with two seconds remaining to complete a thrilling 20-19 comeback victory – a victory that clinched the Texans’ first AFC South title. Walter was wide open over the middle on the play, which came on second-and-goal and capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Walter had six catches for 76 yards in the game against his former team.

Quotable: “There is going down, and then there is going down.  The way he went down was deflating because it was like he just got shot, so that scares the heck out of you.” – Texans coach Gary Kubiak on Andre Johnson on Oct. 2, after Johnson went down untouched with a hamstring injury against the Steelers at Reliant Stadium

“I gave him a ball. He’s a great player, and he’s going through a tough time right now. I’ve watched him stick with this organization for nine years, and I wanted his teammates to know how proud we are of him.” – Kubiak on Johnson on Dec. 11, after the Texans clinched the division at Cincinnati; Johnson was inactive with a hamstring injury

“You have to execute or you lose the football game. That’s what it’s all about… We got it done when it counted.” – Walter on Dec. 11, after catching the game-winning pass at Cincy

“I could stay up here all day talking about that kid. He’s a man, now. You’re going to get the same thing every day or every week. I got on the elevator with him at the hotel Saturday night, me and a couple of the coaches, and he was white as a ghost, didn’t look very good. We asked him how he was doing. He said, ‘Coach, I’m fine. I’m ready to go.’ That’s Kevin.” – Kubiak on Walter on Dec. 12; Walter missed practice the previous Friday with an illness, rendering him questionable for the Bengals game

“I said the day that I was drafted that this was something that I wanted to be a part of.  It’s a very special feeling. It’s probably the most that I have smiled in a long time.” – Johnson on Jan. 7, after catching six passes for 90 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals in the first playoff game in Texans history

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Smith’s “long, lovely road” leads to Hawaii

HONOLULU — The question posed to Texans defensive end caused him to pause, look down beneath his white AFC Pro Bowl visor and wipe his right brow with his left index finger.

Almost as soon as he took down his hand as if to start speaking, Smith picked it back up and wiped his brow a few more times before finally looking up with a composed smile.

“You almost made a ninja cry right there for just a second,” Smith said.

The question posed to Smith, a first-time Pro Bowler and self-proclaimed “Ninja Assassin,” was about what Texans coach Gary Kubiak had said about him a few minutes earlier, after the AFC’s Thursday morning Pro Bowl practice at the joint Pearl Harbor-Hickam Air Force Base.

“I’m just very proud of him,” Kubiak said. “He’s come a long way from us picking him up a couple years ago (as a free agent) to now sitting here playing in the Pro Bowl. I had a great moment with him last night at the little (luau) they had, just telling him how proud I am of how far he’s come as a pro. It’s what you want as a coach. You want to see guys like that do well.”

Kubiak’s original relaying of that message a night earlier clearly struck a chord with Smith.

“That’s like, one of the best things you could have as a player, is to know that your coach is proud of you and he’s got your back, and that’s one thing that he let me know last night is that he was proud of everything I did,” Smith said.

“I remember the first time I got here (in 2009), me and him, we bumped heads about working out in the stadium. (He said), ‘Well, you know if you maybe come to offseason workouts, you might be in the Pro Bowl by now!’ And I never really forgot that. And now I see. I’ve been coming faithfully every year since I’ve been here with Ced (strength and conditioning coach Cedric Smith), and it paid off.”

Smith is one of three Texans players at the 2012 Pro Bowl. He finished second on Houston’s second-ranked defense this season with a career-high 6.5 sacks, including at least half a sack in each of the first five games. He was a defensive captain for the second consecutive season.

His first trip to the Pro Bowl is a far cry from the beginning of his NFL career. A fifth-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2004, Smith was cut twice in his first two seasons. He spent much of 2004-05 on the Cardinals’ practice squad, sandwiched around a stint in NFL Europe with the Hamburg Sea Devils in the spring of 2005.

Smith was promoted from the Cardinals’ practice squad to active roster in October 2005. He started eight games that season, eight games the following season and no less than 10 games in each of the five seasons since.

“Man, it’s been a long road, but it’s been a lovely road,” Smith said on Thursday. “I wouldn’t have it no other way than hard. I’m an underdog. This is how life be. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s fun. I’m blessed.”

After a standout 2008 postseason with the Cardinals during their run to Super Bowl XLIII, Smith signed a lucrative free agent contract with the Texans in 2009.

“I’m very proud of him,” Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, Smith’s teammate from 2004-08 who’s at his fifth Pro Bowl, said on Thursday. “He was a heck of a player when he was with us. It’s just unfortunate that he had to get away from us at the time that he did because I really did believe that he was developing into one of the top defensive linemen in the league.

“I think it’s (his) tenacity. He’s relentless. I think he understands techniques and how to use his hands. How it is in the trenches, man, you’ve got to have one guy that’s a dog, and he was our dog.”

Wilson also is impressed by Smith’s new off-field persona. He watched amusedly as Smith stalked around the field in a red ninja mask during the NFC practice on Thursday, interviewing players as a correspondent for NFL Network.

“It’s a good get-up that he’s got going,” Wilson said. “He’s really grown into his own character-wise. When he was in Arizona, he wasn’t doing that. He’s more animated now than ever before.”

Considering how far Smith has come to get to this point in his career, it’s hard to blame him.

“It’s going lovely out here,” Smith said. “I just think that it’s a blessing to even be here. The lord has dun’ blessed me and been gracious on me to play football and do it for a living. Getting to meet everybody, the scenery of Hawaii and the fact that I’m in the Pro Bowl, It’s kind of a big deal.”

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Johnson still unable to pinpoint return date

Texans wide receiver has made rapid improvement since injuring his hamstring on Oct. 2, but it’s still unclear when he’ll return to the lineup.

Johnson had minor surgery on his right leg two weeks ago to remove scar tissue that was causing pain behind his knee.

“When I’m out there running now, I don’t feel that pain anymore, so that’s a good thing,” Johnson said Tuesday morning on SportsRadio 610 AM. “They say it could take up to six weeks at the most, but I don’t think it’ll take me that long.”

Six weeks would put Johnson’s recovery date right at the Texans’ bye week on Nov. 20. The five-time Pro Bowler already has missed games against the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, both losses.

On Monday, Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Johnson “made a lot of improvement last week” in his rehab. Johnson hasn’t been ruled out of Sunday’s game at Tennessee, but he said his hamstring is not at full strength.

“You really can’t put a timetable on it, it’s just whenever it feels back to normal,” he said. “Right now, it’s still weak. It’s not as strong as it used to be. I still can’t run full-speed yet, but I am out on the field running. I’ve tried to run full-speed, but I’m just taking it day by day.”

Johnson, who still leads the Texans in catches (25) and receiving yards (352), is anxious after missing the last two-and-a-half games and watching the Texans go from 3-1 to 3-3.

“Yesterday was a little frustrating when I was doing my rehab, just seeing what the team is going through right now and I’m not being able to play,” he said. “I want to be back on the field so bad, so I got a little frustrated yesterday. Today makes two weeks since I had my procedure, and everybody’s like, ‘You’re doing so well’ because a lot of people who just had regular hamstring pulls are not doing what I’m doing right now. So I’m heading in the right direction, man. I just wish it could heal faster.”

Kubiak said the Texans will increase Johnson’s workload and that he could return to practice before the end of the week. If that happens, Kubiak said “there’s always a chance” Johnson plays against the Titans in a game for first place in the AFC South.

“He’s got a look in his eye, so we’ll just see how the week goes,” Texans quarterback said on Monday on SportsRadio 610. “I know he’s progressing well, so we’ll just have to see. Whoever’s out there ready to play, we’re going to go get after it.”

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