The former University of Miami Hurricane is Houston's best offensive player, and their win/loss record is directly attributed to Johnson's contributions. In the seven games Johnson was absent a year ago, the Texans went 2-5, and in the nine games he played in, the team went 6-3.
Johnson is widely regarded by most experts as a top five wide receiver, being that he is a deep threat, runs great routes, isn't afraid to go over the middle, and can block as well. One of the keys to Houston's potential playoff run will be the health of Johnson, especially his knee which caused him to miss nearly half of 2007.
"My knee is feeling fine," said Johnson. "I haven't really had any problems with it. When I am out running routes, when I break down, I have no problems, no pain, and no nothing. I still go in and do some things just for precaution. But other than that it is feeling fine. I'm just trying to get ready for the season."
This will be Johnson's sixth season in the NFL and he hasn't yet sniffed the playoffs. If he's going to propel himself from an underrated wide receiver to a household name, his team is going to have to experience some more success.
"I always say it better happen now," Johnson told reporters. "Wins are going to happen. This is going on my sixth season and it is time for things to change. To me it has to happen right now. So hopefully it will happen this year."
Although the health of Johnson is important, the Texans shouldn't have to depend on their number one receiver quite as much in 2008 due to the emergence of some other offensive threats in the backfield and at the wide receiver positions. Head coach Gary Kubiak spoke about his wide receiving corps—
"It's a good group. You just kind of keep going, you're in camp, but it's an excellent group. The competition is very, very good. In the past, if Andre (Johnson) missed a practice the football team was not very sharp. But we can rest Andre and we still make plays out here. It's a good group and it will be some tough cuts. Hopefully, they're all standing at the end. And it's tough on the football team, so it means we're better."
One of the reasons why the team is better equipped to handle an injury to Johnson is because of the production of Kevin Walter. Walter had a breakout year in 2007 when he caught 65 passes for 800 yards, with four receiving touchdowns. Those numbers easily eclipsed his career stats of the four previous seasons.
"(In Kevin Walter) You just see a worker; a real accountable worker, overachieving type of guy, a real pro," said Kubiak. "And I think you have to let them know you believe in them and it wasn't just me, it was our whole team. Everybody was feeling the type of player he was. And it's easy as a coach when all of a sudden a guy goes in and plays and plays well, and say, ‘Well, he should stay there'. But sometimes it's a hard call when a guy hadn't played much to say, ‘Hey, I think you're a starter, go get after it.' Those are tough calls to make but we've got to make them. And we're trying to do that with Zac Diles right now. We're hoping he continues his progress and ends up the same way."
The Texans have confidence in not only Johnson and Walter, but also quarterback Matt Schaub, who will enter his second season as a starting quarterback.
"Yeah, you can see it just from being with him in the huddle and just from talking to him when we talk about plays when we are out at practice, said Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson. "He is getting better and he is going to make this team better."
Injuries are a part of life in the NFL. It's not about if, it's more about when. Some of the most successful teams in the NFL are able to plug guys in when starters go down. After years of building a roster, the Texans may finally be at the stage where they can afford to suffer injuries and still win.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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