While Houston's star receiver sits out organized team activities to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery, Texans coach Gary Kubiak is taking a close look at the youngsters lining up to fill out the depth chart behind Johnson.
Houston waived Jacoby Jones and drafted DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin, two of the top receivers in the Big Ten. Kevin Walter, who's back for a seventh season with the Texans, is the other starting receiver.
But Walter was out with an illness on Tuesday, and that left Kubiak with seven receivers in practice -- none of whom have caught a pass in an NFL game. Undrafted rookies Jerrell Jackson and Mario Louis joined Posey, Martin, Lestar Jean, Juaquin Iglesias and Jeff Maehl on the field.
Kubiak isn't holding back with the rookies, expecting them to learn the complicated playbook and adapt quickly to the speed of the NFL game.
"First off, what we do offensively, I want guys to know all the spots, so that's important to me," Kubiak said Wednesday. "But at the same time, if I get a talent, a young talent that it's taking him time to get there, then I've got to be smart in how I use him, to give him a chance to help the team. We're going to throw everything at everybody we've got and find out what they can handle."
Jean, acquired as an undrafted free agent last season, has been working with the offensive starters in Johnson's absence. Receivers coach Larry Kirksey says Jean is the early frontrunner to become the No. 3 receiver for next year, but says there's still a long way to go. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Jean missed last season with a left shoulder injury.
"He's taking up where he left off a year ago, as far as making plays," Kirksey said. "He's always asking Andre questions, he's always working hard. I like the way he's preparing. We expect him to continue to excel and hopefully, by the time the season rolls around, he's ready to help us out."
Kirksey says Martin, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, is slightly ahead of Posey, a third-rounder from Ohio State. The Texans are also watching Martin return punts and kickoffs, duties he handled in college.
"We're throwing a lot at those two guys," Kirksey said. "Keshawn's had more opportunities to make plays. But I think they're both going to be fine. It's just a learning process for both of them right now."
Posey has been getting advice off the field from his older brother Julian Posey, a cornerback with the New York Jets, and his uncle, Clint Haslerig, an NFL player in the 1970s.
"And just coming from Ohio State, we have a large array of guys that played in the league," Posey said. "Just for me to be able to have that network to speak to each other and those guys, to speak to them about, `What's it like playing in the league?"'
Kubiak says 5-10, 190-pound Martin has been a "pleasant surprise." He caught 66 passes for 777 yards in 2011, and he finished second in school history in career punt return yards (659) and eighth in kick return yards (1,100).
"It just gives them another reason to pick me, so yeah, that's something that I feel like I can bring to the table also, doing returns and playing receiver," Martin said. "Just instincts, just finding a hole and then bursting up the field."
Like Kubiak, Walter has watched each young receiver closely. He's even picked up a thing or two from them in the first set of offseason team practices.
"Every receiver is different," said Walter, third in receptions last season with 39. "Not one receiver is the same (as another) and we've been around each other the past few weeks and you try to learn things from him and he learns things from me. You try and apply them to each other's game."