Houston Texans Training Camp Top 5 Storylines: 3. Life After Andre Johnson
Thinking back on Texans training camps of seasons past, there have been noticeable voids before when prominent players have moved onto new pastures (some greener than others). When training camp began in 2012 with no Mario Williams or DeMeco Ryans for the first time in six seasons, that felt weird. Matt Schaub's absence last season had an odd feel, in part because everyone watches the quarterbacks at camp and in part because Matt Schaub had become public football enemy number one the previous season with a barrage of pick sixes that live on forever on YouTube.
No Andre Johnson, though.
This one is going to feel completely weird, like The Office without Michael Scott, like Good Times after they killed off James, like Dylan leaving Beverly Hills, 90210. SAME. EXACT. THING. To quote Kramer describing Jerry, Andre was "the straw that stirs the drink. He was the MIANA!!!"
And now he's gone gone. Andre "THE MIANA" Johnson has packed up his 1,012 catches, his 13,597 yards, his seven Pro Bowls and moved to Indianapolis. He's now a Colt. So perhaps I'm mistaken, since he remains in the Texans division. Calling Andre's absence a "void" is only accurate for training camp. He's actually going to get a chance to torment Texan fans and his former employer twice per season until he chooses not to. So when Andre Johnson is not leaving an emotional cavity in our hearts, he will be ripping said hearts from our chests and biting into them like a red apple. Gee, awesome.
So how do you replace a legend, a possible future Hall of Famer?
Well, replacing Andre's production as a number one wide receiver was actually something that began happening last season, with now third year wideout DeAndre Hopkins becoming the nominal and actual number one on this team, amassing 76 catches, 1,210 yards and six touchdowns. Replacing Andre's spot on this depth chart (and his unsung role in Hopkins' progression) is going to be done by committee.
Veterans Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington signed on during free agency, and rookies Jaelen Strong (third round, Arizona State) and Keith Mumphrey (fifth round, Michigan State) were drafted in early May. That's probably your top five guys right there, which will be tough for Keshawn Martin (three years of not much) and Damaris Johnson (re-signed to a one year, $1 million deal) to hear. Their spots are in jeopardy.
Shorts, 27, played four seasons in Jacksonville. His best season was 2012 when he finished with just under 1,000 yards and showed some big play capability, averaging nearly 18 yards a catch. Versatility is his calling card as he can play on the outside and in the slot. Washington, 31, is a downfield threat who looked pretty spry during OTA's. He's averaged nearly 16 yards a catch for his career, and somehow managed two 900+ yard seasons in the last four years with Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst, and other sludge at quarterback. These two will be collectively trying to fill the Johnson Void (a void which absolutely deserves proper noun status).
The two rookies are interesting in that Strong was probably drafted a round lower than people thought he'd go and Mumphrey was a surprise to some that he was even drafted at all. Perhaps even more oddly, Mumphrey has thus far been the more impressive of the two in rookie minicamps and full squad OTA's.
After that, again, it's Martin, Johnson, 2013 draftee and injured reserve All-Star Alan Bonner (IR both season so far, good work if you can get it), and sleepers like Travis Labhart from Texas A&M, who made an impression in camp last year.
In short, there are no Andre Johnson's after Hopkins on the depth chart, but after a depth chart last season that saw Damaris Johnson and Keshawn Martin as the third and fourth receivers, the number of capable bodies overall in 2015 is a welcome sight. How this combo platter of players replaces number 80 remains to be seen.
Give the Texans media relations folks credit, they're trying to put a good face on the Andre Transition (proper noun again, yes) with tweets like this:
That's good, I suppose. That Andre Johnson guy? He has 51.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.
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