When Johnson missed Houston's entire offseason practice schedule after arthroscopic knee surgery, coach Gary Kubiak noticed a difference in the practice intensity. Now that he's back on the field for training camp, things are back to normal.
"He's working extremely well," Kubiak said. "He's the heart and soul of this team and that's the way he goes about his business."
Johnson isn't a loud or in your face type of leader. In fact, he's probably the most introverted and soft-spoken player on the team. His performance speaks for itself and players follow his example without him having to say a word.
That's one reason it was so difficult for him to miss seven games last season. Before that he'd sat out just three games in four seasons. Johnson said he felt helpless watching from the sidelines, knowing he couldn't help out.
He's looked good in the first week of training camp, but a scary moment came on Saturday morning. As he was running a route near the end of practice he abruptly pulled up and grabbed the top of his leg. An audible gasp came from the crowd of more than 3,000 as he hobbled off the field.
He was walking normally by the time practice ended a few minutes later and said he felt a tightness in his groin but was OK.
"I just felt it tighten up real tight on me," he said. "When I felt that, I just slowed down. I didn't feel a pop or anything like that afterward. I'll get treatment for a few days and I'll be fine."
It wasn't only the fans who were concerned about Johnson's health. Quarterback Matt Schaub rushed over to check on Johnson the second practice was over. He assured his quarterback he was fine.
Now that he's healthy, he's helping more than just the offense. Kubiak thinks covering Johnson in practice is beneficial for his cornerbacks, especially Antwaun Molden, a rookie from Eastern Kentucky.
"It's a big factor," Kubiak said. "You come from Eastern Kentucky, you don't see many Andre Johnsons. So it's great for that kid to have to line up against him. I think our guys match up well and we get some good work out of them."
Johnson's been with the Texans long enough to know that there aren't many players on the offense people outside of Houston recognize as stars.
"I think we have a lot of talent," he said. "I just think we don't have a bunch of guys with big names. We have a bunch of guys that can go out and make plays and I think that's the big thing. Just because you have big name, I don't really think that matters. If you have guys that make plays for you, that is all that matters."
Johnson had 60 receptions for a team-leading 851 yards with a career-high eight touchdowns in nine games last season. Houston's offense was potent early last season before injuries to Johnson, Schaub and Ahman Green derailed the team's progress.
If he stays healthy this season, Kubiak believes Johnson can flourish in his second year with Schaub.
"I see him getting better," Kubiak said of Johnson. "He's really honed his skills as far as route running ... and what he wants to do. I think he's in a situation with a quarterback that he really has a great relationship with. They work together and they spend extra time and that's the key to being great. There are a lot of good guys, but to be great you have to do a little more."
Notes: Recently signed RB Chris Brown injured his hamstring Saturday morning. "He's not in the shape the rest of our football team is and we found that out real fast," Kubiak said. "He got gassed the first night he was out here. He got gassed earlier today and he's not up with our team." ... The Texans will have their first day off since training camp began on Sunday. They'll resume workouts with two practices on Monday.