Receiving Praise

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October 17, 2004
Receiving Praise

by Keith Weiland

Thank goodness he isn’t a Bearcat right now.

Word leaked to the media last December that Texans receivers coach Kippy Brown was on a short list of head coaching candidates for the vacancy at the University of Cincinnati. Good news for the Texans and their young core of wide receivers that Cincinnati didn’t pursue Brown maybe as hard as they should have.

Brown’s receivers might be the hottest in the league, and the arrow is still pointing up. Way up.

Of course it’s easy to look good when there’s an All-Pro talent like Andre Johnson on your side. Just six games into his second season, Johnson is among the league leaders in catches (33), receiving yards (591), and yards per reception (17.9) following Sunday’s win over the Titans.

But where Brown perhaps deserves some extra credit is in how fast Johnson has developed. Johnson’s pace is Jerry Rice-like.

Yeah, that Jerry Rice.

Through the first 22 games of his career, Johnson has 99 catches for 1,567 yards. Through the same stretch, Rice had 83 catches for 1,650 yards. That, folks, is impressive.

Where Brown may be having the most impact on Johnson’s development is in one of Johnson’s biggest weaknesses coming out of college. Johnson had been scouted (yes, even here in this space) as having concrete hands. He had made some difficult catches for the Hurricanes before bypassing his final year of eligibility for the NFL Draft, but he had a tendency to drop a few easy ones, too.

It was a trend that seemed to shadow Johnson during rookie season as well. Following a second round of mini-camps, training camps, and preseason games, Johnson’s hands appear to have been soaking in Palmolive when we weren’t looking.

Johnson’s rapid ascension into the upper echelon of NFL receivers isn’t the only thing on which Brown should be able to hang his hat. His other young drafted receiver, Jabar Gaffney, has a knack for making the tough catch, and he’s shown improved maturity as well.

Gaffney left Florida early after his redshirt sophomore season. He then slipped out of the first round of the 2002 draft, but into the waiting arms of Brown. Inconsistent his first two seasons, Gaffney showed enough sparks at times to give onlookers promise that he might not be just another tepid Gator receiver in the NFL.

Gaffney has begun to feed off of Johnson’s double teams, evidenced by his five catches for 85 yards and a score on Sunday. More impressive though has been the way Gaffney gives an effort now on every down he plays, making big blocks on cornerbacks and safeties to spring fellow teammates for even bigger gains. It may have seemed like a long time coming, but Brown’s teachings over the past two years have turned Gaffney into a solid pro receiver this season.

Derick Armstrong is another player in Brown’s corps of receivers that is flourishing under his tutelage. Armstrong has taken advantage of all his opportunities this year, culminating in a six-catch, 101-yard performance against the Vikings two weeks ago in relief of an injured Corey Bradford.

Perhaps Brown just got lucky having such a pearl fall into his clams, but considering how Armstrong bounced around in obscurity for so long, from Division II to the Canadian Football League, luck might only explain what’s difficult to be seen.

Bradford is the other contributor in Brown’s stable of receivers. It’s possible that Bradford became a Texan because of his familiarity with Brown. When Brown was coaching the Packers running backs three years ago, Bradford was busy running deep under Brett Favre’s passes.

While it may be something of a disappointment that Bradford hasn’t taken the next step in his development as a receiver with the Texans, he did post career best statistics under Brown during the Texans’ expansion season. Bradford led the team with 697 yards and six touchdowns that year. Though he’s been battling a nagging injury this season, his 47-yard catch to set up the Texans’ first score against the Titans is proof that he can still stretch a defense.

Some credit for the success of the Texans receivers is obviously due to general manager Charley Casserly and his scouting staff for finding these talented players at wide receiver, but just finding them is not enough. Brown has developed them to achieve career bests thus far into their young careers, and one can only drool in anticipation with what may happen with his next two projects, rookies Sloan Thomas and Kendrick Starling.

About the only thing Keith Weiland receives is junk mail.

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