After fearing another frustrating rebuilding year, Wide Receiver Andre Johnson did not report to any of the camps held by the Texans leading up to the preseason. Johnson has had a sudden change of heart and showed up at the Texans training facility ahead of schedule and got to learning the new playbook.
“I love playing the game of football,” Johnson said at NRG Stadium. “I don’t plan on walking away from this.”
The Texans released wide receiver Jacoby Jones on Tuesday.
The move came days after the Texans selected wide receivers from Ohio State and Michigan State in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, of the 2012 NFL Draft. Jones was rumored to be on the trading block during the draft.
“We’ve added a couple of receivers to our team,” Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said Tuesday in his office at Reliant Stadium. “We’ve got a couple of kids that we think a lot of, being number one, and then also a lot of it’s about doing right Jacoby – our football team but doing right by him, too. [General manager] Rick [Smith] and I talked about it, and he’s handled himself with class.”
Jones, 27, started a career-high 10 games in 2011 with hobbled by hamstring injuries. He caught 31 passes for 512 yards (16.5 average) and two touchdowns, and he averaged 10.6 yards per punt return with a touchdown.
Jones was a scapegoat for many fans in Houston after fumbling a punt near the goal line in the Texans’ Divisional Round playoff loss at Baltimore.
“I think there’s way too much made out of that,” Kubiak said. “Andre missed 10 games last year and Jacoby was a starter in his absence and made a lot of plays for us, and Jacoby made a lot of special teams plays. We had many opportunities to win in Baltimore, and in this business, not one guy loses the game, not one guy wins the game. But it’s just a collective decision on where we’re heading with our young receivers, and also I feel like being very fair to Jacoby. That’s all this is about.”
A third-round draft pick out of Lane College in 2007, Jones started in 21 games in five seasons with the Texans. He had 127 catches for 1,741 yards (13.7 average) and 11 touchdowns. He averaged 10.2 yards on punt returns and 23.3 yards on kickoff returns and set a team record with four returns (three punt, one kickoff) for touchdowns.
Jones was plagued by fumbles on punt returns in his first three seasons and was in 2009. Kubiak kept Jones off the trip after he missed a Saturday morning team meeting, and the Texans wound up losing the game 23-18.
“We had a few rough patches early in his career with me, but he’s really grown up and done a good job,” Kubiak said. “To me, he’s been excellent the last couple of years. Played very well for us in Andre’s absence.
“We’ll move forward with our young players at receiver, and it’s a fair opportunity for Jacoby to go out there and get a fresh start somewhere else, and I’m sure he’ll go out and go a great job. I appreciate everything he did. Visited with him today, I wished him all the best and thanked him for everything he did for us.”
The Texans’ draft board is set. All that remains is seeing how the chips fall beginning on
Thursday with the first round, where the Texans have the 26th pick, and executing their plan.
At his annual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, general manager Rick Smith applauded the work done by the Texans’ scouting and coaching staffs during draft preparations.
“This is such a subjective process, what we try to do is do as much as we can do to put ourselves in positions to make good decisions,” Smith said. “Our processes are in place now and I feel so good about them, and I think longevity helps us because we’ve got people who have worked with us in the system long enough that I just really feel good about where we are and how we’ve stacked this board and just the process.
“So the culmination, obviously, of a lot of work over the last year, I think we can fully expect that it will be a very successful weekend for us. I’m thankful to the guys who have put in all the work and I think we’ve vetted this board about as thoroughly as we’ve vetted a board, and I feel very prepared as a group going in.
“We’ve met this morning to go over scenarios and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow, but really, the work’s done. The board is set. We’re excited about adding some players that will come in and hopefully impact our football team.”
Smith said the Texans “took a significant step” toward their goal of winning a Super Bowl last season. They went 10-6 and advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs before losing to the Baltimore Ravens on the road in narrow fashion.
Every first-round pick in Texans history has started as a rookie, but that could change in 2012.
“We are coming into the draft where we feel like we have a good football team and there are no glaring needs,” Smith said. “Certainly, we feel like we’re in that position, but I still think you have to look for impact players. Maybe the early contribution won’t be as significant for some of them, but you still want to go out and find the best players available that fit your system and speak to some kind of need on your football team or can make some kind of contribution to your football team.”
So what are the Texans’ needs heading into the draft?
“If you look across our football team, the first thing I think you would think about [is] on the offensive line, losing a couple starters, via free agency in one case [right guard Mike Brisiel] and then a termination in another case [right tackle Eric Winston], but we’ve got to look at the offensive line group,” Smith said. “I’ve said at the Combine earlier that I think we can probably help ourselves at the wide receiver position with maybe adding some youth and adding some speed there, and then depth in the linebacker corps. You can always add pass rushers. You can always add corners; I’ve always said that.
“We’ll do what we always do. We’ll stay true to our board. We’ve assessed a value that we think these players have at their particular positions, and the way that it falls is the way that we’ll pick them.”
Smith declined to discuss specific draft prospects, as he does every year. He did say on Tuesday that there is depth in this draft at wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker.
Smith also said the Texans are further along in their evaluation of 3-4 defensive prospects from last year, when they switched from evaluating 4-3 players in the middle of the scouting season after Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator.
“One thing about this defense is you need linebackers,” he said. “You need depth at linebacker. You need as many guys as you can find that can rush the passer that are athletic. It helps you on special teams. I do believe that our special teams units were improved last year, and part of that is a function of a 3-4 defense. We’ll continue to bolster those groups and continue to try to find players that fit that system and can come in and help us.”
Going back to the offensive line, Smith repeated another familiar refrain of his from this time of year: The Texans don’t stack their draft board based on need.
“We’ve got good players on our football team already that we think can step in there,” Smith said. “(Rashad) Butler is a guy that played at a very, very high level when he had his opportunity, and it’s been very limited, but he started four games for us and played at a pretty high level. (Antoine) Caldwell has starting experience. Last year, even our seventh-round pick had the opportunity to be a swing tackle in . That’s really good experience that he was able to get.
“We’re not at a point where we’re at a total deficit anywhere on our football team, but we do think that there are some players in this draft that can come in and provide depth and help us.”