Texans hope to improve on already-potent offense


Andre Johnson's career-high 1,598 yards receiving were second in the NFL and Arian Foster ran for 1,424 yards for sixth best in the league to power the Texans offense in 2012.

The Texans believe an influx of young talent, led by rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and the returning players could make the offense even more explosive.

"I think that will keep the defenses a lot more honest this year having to worry about more people, more than just Andre and Arian or whatever it is," tight end Owen Daniels said. "That makes things easier for us."

If Hopkins, a first-round pick, develops the way the Texans believe he will, he'll give them a top-tier receiver to play opposite Johnson for the first time. Hopkins has been solid so far, blending seamlessly into the offense with the confidence of a veteran.

"I think he's balanced us up in training camp," coach Gary Kubiak said. "The ball's going both ways, so that's a good thing. He's obviously shown that he's got some special skills in the red zone that he can get balls. It's early right now, but I like the balance of what's going on."

Quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw for 4,008 yards last year, has been impressed with the work of Hopkins in practice. However, he knows the true test will be how he responds in a game. Houston will get the first opportunity to do that on Friday night against the Minnesota Vikings.

"You can do it out here in practice when you get rep after rep, but when it comes to crunch time in a game, that's when you really got to do it," Schaub said. "We've just got to get to the first preseason game and see how far he has come and then progress from there."

Hopkins isn't daunted by the idea of playing his first NFL game. After all, he's been doing well in practice each day against one of the league's elite defenses.

"I feel like I'm going against a great defense that's putting me in those situations against tough defenses, so I feel like I match up pretty well," he said.

Hopkins understands that while he'll certainly be tasked with making some catches this season, his other role is perhaps more important that how many yards he gains.

"A lot of teams are going to focus in on Andre, so if I can take a little bit of pressure off of him and make a couple plays each game, it's going to help the team out," Hopkins said.

Against the Vikings, the Texans will get a chance to gauge the development of some of their rookie running backs while Foster sits out with back soreness. Ben Tate will likely start, but rookies Ray Graham, Dennis Johnson and Cierre Wood should all see their first NFL action.

While the work of Hopkins so far has been what the Texans expected, a pleasant surprise in camp has been the emergence of second-year receiver Keshawn Martin. Martin was a fourth-round pick in 2012 and contributed mostly on special teams as a rookie and finished with just 85 yards receiving.

Schaub raved about the improvement of Martin and is looking forward to more offensive production this season.

"The type of talent that some of these young guys have brought in with DeAndre and Keshawn's growth is really just going to make us even more explosive," Schaub said. "To have (Hopkins) opposite of Andre and with Owen working in the middle of the field and Keshawn working inside, it just gives us so many options and so many weapons to do so many different route combinations."


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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