|Andre Johnson: One ‘smart’ receiver||12.31.09 at 2:37 pm ET|
FOXBORO – It’s no secret that Bill Belichick believes Randy Moss is one of the smartest and most instinctive receivers in the game.
That’s why he was so excited to add him to the roster along with Wes Welker before the 2007 season.
But right up there with Moss in Belichick’s eyes is Houston’s Andre Johnson.
The receiver who came out of the University of Miami in 2003 has been the centerpiece of Gary Kubiak’s offense in Houston. He has been one of the biggest reasons Matt Schaub leads the NFL in passing with 4,467 yards through 15 games.
He can also make the spectacular grab like the one below he made in Week 2 against Tennessee.
And he has been asked to play in virtually every receiving position on the field and run every conceivable route.
“The number of different things he does, the positions he does them from and when you watch the film where everybody is asking where do we lineup and all that, they go out there and run it,” Belichick said. “Clearly, he’s smart, knows the different formations, the different routes they ask him to run from those different formations. It doesn’t look like it’s a problem. They don’t have a lot of mistakes in the passing game, kind of like when you watch Indy, New Orleans and teams like that.
“You see the pattern, there’s good distribution. They have good passing concepts. Sometimes you watch plays and you have guys running together and it doesn’t look like it’s a very well designed route. You hardly ever see that with Houston.”
And Belichick says another reason for Johnson’s success is the way Schaub spreads the ball around to other receivers, including Kevin Walter and tight end Joel Dreessen.
“They’ve got so many other players that you just can’t throw everything at him on every play,” Belichick said. “You might be able to limit him a little bit, but you have a lot of other things to worry about, but he’s a good receiver, he’s good at everything [and] I think that’s the hard part.
“He’s very good down the field. He’s an excellent deep receiver. He’s got great size and speed and goes up for the ball — post patterns, corner patterns, go routes, play-action, bombs down the field — he’s good at those. He’s got good quickness in and out of cuts on those intermediate routes, those 20-yard in cuts, the 18-yard comebacks, the post corner routes and things like that. He’s a strong runner with the ball in his hands, so they give him slip screens, slants, crossing routes and things like that, like Terrell Owens’ type routes. It’s a 3-yard route and it’s 25 yards by the time he gets tackled.”
Johnson is attempting to join future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only receivers since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to lead the league in yards in consecutive seasons.
Johnson caught the eyes of experts and fans alike in 2008 when he hauled in 115 catches and eight touchdowns, putting up an average of 13.7 yards per grab.
This year, Johnson’s been even better, with 15.8 yards per catch and nine touchdowns on a team that leads the league in passing yardage.
“I think it’s just me being on the same page as my quarterback and making the best of my opportunities,” Johnson said. “I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of opportunities out on the football field and I just try to make the best of them.
Much of Johnson’s success is due to the chemistry with Matt Schaub, something that has gotten better and better over the season, and especially during the team’s recent three-game winning streak. In the first two games of their latest run – against Seattle and St. Louis – Johnson had 193 and 196 yards respectively.
“It’s grown so much since the day he got here,” Johnson said. “This is the first year where we’ve been together on the field all 16 games. He’s battled a lot of injuries. I was injured one year and this is our first time being together for a full season. That is something we both talked about before the season was just saying, ‘I wonder how things would be if we both stayed on the field and healthy through the whole season.’ So he was able to go out – I think he’s leading the league in passing yards right now and I’m leading the league in receiving yards, so it’s working out for both of us.”
This will also be a special game for Johnson because he will be reunited with a couple of former Miami Hurricanes in Vince Wilfork and Brandon Meriweather, players he works out with occasionally during the offseason.
“Yeah, I always run into those guys,” Johnson said. “They are great guys – Brandon and Big Vince. I mean, those are guys that you have a close bond with because of what we accomplished together during our college days. We will always have a special bond and I always run into them in the offseason back home.”
But what may come as a surprise is that he won’t be trash-talking with the former Canes.
“I’m not really into trash-talking,” the soft-spoken Johnson said. “We’re just going to go out and play the game. We won’t be out there jawing at each other or anything like that. I think we’ll just go out and play the game and see what happens. I know Brandon is not going to take pity on me because we’re friends or anything like that. When you’re in between the white lines, you can’t worry about that. You have to go out and play the game. We’ll be back friends afterwards.”
Another former Hurricane receiver – Reggie Wayne – will join Johnson at the Pro Bowl and form quite the formidable starting receiving tandem. That’s something Johnson relishes.
“Yeah, me and Reggie are really close,” Johnson said. “We spend a lot of time together during the offseason and it’s kind of crazy. I was with him there at the Pro Bowl last year and back with him again. It’s a lot of fun to come up under someone and someone who was able to teach you things and show you the ropes when I came in as a freshman in college. And now for us to be very successful at what we’re doing in the NFL, it’s a special feeling. It means a lot.”
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