Lestar Jean seems to have emerged as the frontrunner to fill the No. 3 receiver slot behind Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Jean leads Houston (No. 4 in the AP Pro32) in the preseason with six catches for 92 yards heading into Saturday's game at New Orleans (No. 9). He had a 9-yard touchdown grab from Matt Schaub in Saturday's 20-9 win over San Francisco.
"I was definitely excited," Jean said. "I felt like all my hard work paid off. And the most important thing is that I did something to help the team win the game. That was the most exciting part for me."
Houston signed Jean in July 2011, and he showed a glimpse of what he could do with two catches -- one for 26 yards, the other for 27 -- in a preseason game against the New York Jets. He injured his left shoulder in the next game and spent the season on injured reserve.
The Texans drafted DeVier Posey (third round) and Keshawn Martin (fourth round) to compete for the receiver's slots beneath Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter on the depth chart. Jean spent the summer in Houston, running routes for Schaub in the morning, lifting weights and running in the afternoon and occasionally catching more passes in the evening.
"This is a competitive sport, there is always going to be competition," Jean said. "I was happy, because they were some good guys. Even if I'm not here, even if I don't make the team, I know they've got some great guys that will help the team win."
But Jean's extra effort in the offseason has drawn notice. Kubiak says the 24-year-old receiver has looked more like a polished veteran in training camp.
"I just think he knows what he's doing now so it's not hard for him to go out there and play," Kubiak said. "As far as assignment-wise, his talents kind of take over. He's gaining confidence with every play that he makes. All the skill is there, and I don't think he has a chance to be a good player, I think he has a chance to be a really good player. So that's what we're pushing him toward."
In 2009, Houston took a chance by signing undrafted free agent Arian Foster. Foster led the NFL in rushing in 2010 and made his second Pro Bowl last season, proud that he's proved skeptics wrong.
Jean got to play with Foster and first-team offense on Saturday, and Schaub says he's fitting in well.
"He's been doing a great job," Schaub said. "He's going to be a big-time player for us in this league. He's been playing real consistently well. The more he does that, the more comfortable he gets. He could be a really good asset for us."
And the more Jean develops, the more he could ease the burden on Johnson, who missed nine games last season with hamstring issues and turned 31 in July. Johnson likes what he sees both from Jean and from Martin, who's made five catches for 60 yards in the preseason.
"I've said it before, and I continue to say it, we have a lot of young guys that can go out and make plays for us," Johnson said, "and those guys are going to be a big part of us getting to where we want to go. It doesn't surprise me to see him or Keshawn (Martin), it doesn't surprise me to see any of those guys make plays because they do it in practice. When they get their opportunities, they're ready to go."
The 6-2, 210-pound Posey, meanwhile, seems to have fallen behind the others. He has yet to make a catch in the preseason, and Kubiak hinted that the time Posey missed serving a 10-game suspension at Ohio State last season may be costing him now. Posey was penalized by the NCAA and his school for taking improper benefits, first cash and tattoos for signed memorabilia and then being overpaid for a summer job.
Kubiak says he'll give Posey more opportunities in the final two preseason games, although he acknowledged that Jean and Martin are "playing extremely well."
"I wouldn't say that DeVier is not doing the same things," Kubiak said. "I just think that it has taken him a little bit more time to get going with the offense, so to speak. I mentioned many times throughout the course of the month, he did miss a year of football in a lot of ways last year. But his ability shows up."