There comes a time during the offseason when some NFL teams, particularly ones with new coaches, reach out to their past greatness for inspiration and maybe even credibility.
We’re reaching that point in several spots around the league.
In Miami, for example, the Dolphins have reached out to former Pro Bowl receiver Mark Clayton and asked him to visit the club and be around players the next few days as the team winds down its offseason program.
The Houston Texans have brought in former Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson to watch practice and be around the players and impart whatever wisdom he might in the process.
“When you’re the greatest player in the history of a franchise, that kind of tells you everything you need to know about a player,” coach Lovie Smith said of Johnson.
Johnson, a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year, played 12 years for the Texans. He caught 1,062 pass for 13,597 yards while in Houston. So, good stuff.
And he seem excited about the promise ahead.
“I just think Lovie is just a straightforward guy,” Johnson said. “He’s going to tell you what you need to know and I think he does a great job of putting these guys in a position to be successful.
“Since he’s gotten the coaching job, he and I have had a great relationship. I can always reach out to him and he can reach out to me. So I’m excited about where the organization is headed.”
Johnson joined the Texans as a first-round draft pick in 2003. It was the franchise’s second year of existence and Johnson saw it as an opportunity to establish something.
The Texans reached .500 for the first time in 2007, had their first winning season in 2009 and won their division in 2011 and ’12 while Johnson was still on the team.
The team has hit rough times again, posting losing seasons in 2020 and 2021 and Smith is the third coach in three years.
Those recent struggles was part of a conversation Johnson had with cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., the club’s first-round last April, because of what the rookie might aspire to attain.
“I was just telling him about how their rookie class can do something special, change the organization, because of what’s happening here over the past couple of years,” Johnson said. “It’s just on them, doing the hard work, holding each other accountable and it’s kind of like when I came here the second year of the team.
“It was a challenge that I took and I wanted to help this organization get to the playoffs and accomplish other things, You know, I took the challenge and we made it happen.”
Johnson has watched Stingley play at LSU and practice with Houston. And he’s impressed.
“He’s a great player,” Johnson said. “I guess some people say his stock kind of dropped prior to the draft or whatever. But I’ve always felt the first time I seen him play he caught my eye. I’m happy he’s here and I’m sure he’ll do great things for us.”
If the Texans are to rise from last place in the AFC South, they need better play from their quarterback and Johnson thinks second-year starter Davis Mills has potential.
“I can see a lot of improvement from last year to now,” Johnson said in his trademark Barry White voice. “You could kind of see over the course of the season, I think he was a little shell-shocked, you know, when he first got here.
“But it happens going from college to the NFL and guys disguise things differently and things of that nature. But he looks very confident out here right now.”
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