Givins to Fly

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August 21, 2007
Givins to Fly

by Ric Sweeney

In 1986, my dad and I attened an Oiler preseason game. (Yes, even then, 21 years ago, greedy NFL owners required season ticket holders to purchase preseason games as part of their package.) Then, like now and likely forever, there really wasn’t much sizzle to the exhibitions and thus, no reason to go, really. But we paid for them, Goddamn it, so my dad was going to attend come hell or boring football.

So we packed our dinners (my enterprising dad always brought food to the games in those days even though the Dome did not allow you to do so. He would hide it in his binocular case and then not spend a dime while at the stadium. Suck it, Bud!) and headed to the Dome, expecting to be bored and then bored silly watching future cuts try not to out suck each other.

And then it happened. A blur of baby blue broke across the middle, caught a pass, and then turned it upfield. He broke a tackle. He outran someone else. And we were… why, gosh darn it, we were rising out of our seats. We were (gasp!): excited. And then it happened again. Blur. Catch. Run. For many Oiler fans at that time, we had grown used to watching Tim Smith make catches and then fall down. He was, in the purest sense, a possession receiver: good hands, no speed.

THIS, however, was no possession receiver. His grand entrance into all of our consciousnesses forced us all onto the concourses to buy a program we had scoffed at an hour earlier as “a waste of money.” We hurriedly flipped through the pages for the rosters… who was this #81…?

Number 81, as it turns out, was Ernest Givins, a rookie wide receiver from, of all places, Louisville – a basketball powerhouse at the time. Regardless (or, were I Spencer Tillman: Irregardless) of where he was from, this guy blasted fresh out of a cannon and we loved it. He ran across the middle with reckless abandon. He made catches in traffic. He took hits and kept going. And he was fast. My God, was he fast. By game’s end, we were all abuzz about our new rookie wide receiver. And Givins was no flash in the pan. He would catch 61 balls his rookie season, averaging 17.4 yards a catch. He would add 148 yards rushing, including a 43-yard touchdown gallop, bringing his season total yardage (including 8 punt returns) to 1,290 yards with four touchdowns.

I was reminded of Ernest Givins Saturday afternoon while watching Jacoby Jones glide into the end zone at the end of his electrifying 80-yard punt return. He had looked good (but raw) in his first preseason game, flashing enough to think he might have a future in this league. Some day. But that future might be today after watching him carve up Arizona. It was 1986 all over again.

Jones totaled 56 yards from scrimmage on just four plays (two receptions, two rushes). He helped convert two 2nd-and-10’s, a 2nd-and-9 and a 3rd-and-5 into first downs. And then he topped it off by taking a punt to the house, impressing everyone who saw it, save likely for Kevin Walter. Jones is now officially pushing Walter as the two battle for the starting wide receiver slot opposite Andre Johnson.

Sadly, I can’t think of any other time in this franchise’s history in which a rookie burst onto the scene and blew a hole through the team’s best-laid plans. Demeco Ryans shook things up last year, certainly; now, it seems Jones has grabbed the torch.

At last, says I! If the Texans have suffered one consistently nagging handicap in its first four years, it’s been a lack of competition up and down its depth chart.

The roster has previously been dotted with starters by default; not that they wouldn’t have earned a starting spot anyway, but who was here to press David Carr? Or Chester Pitts? Or Travis Johnson?

That’s a thing of the past under Gary Kubiak. Ahman Green is guaranteed no playing time with three guys pushing him. Mike Flannigan, Steve McKinney and Fred Weary are battling for two spots with rookie Kasey Studdard close behind. Anthony Maddox, N.D. Kalu and Jason Babin are nipping at the heels of Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye. The entire linebacking corps is up for grabs after Ryans. Even Chad Stanley, who has been the by and large uncontested punter for this team since day 1, has competition in Matt Turk. Hell, as nice as Matt Schaub looked Saturday, Sage Rosenfels looked every bit as good.

The release of Carr may up the ante further as it sent a message that Kubiak means business; so you better produce, number one overall pick or not. That kind of long-needed accountability is going to help this roster get beter, too. (coughMario Williamscough)

And that means that for the first time in its six year existence, the Texans might end up purposefully releasing a player who’s actually decent – not because Charlie Casserly is back in team offices for Bring Your Retard to Work Day but because they have better options available.

Previously, they’ve flooded the free agent pool with Charles Hill, Jonathan Wells, Jarrod Baxter, Ramon Walker, Howard Green, Greg White, Ahmad Miller (deep breath…) Bennie Joppru, Seth Wand, Dave Ragone, Keith Wright, Curry Burns, Chance Pearce, Vontez Duff, Jammal Lord (taking a break…), Raheem Orr, Sloan Thomas, B.J. Symons, and Kenneth Pettway – none of whom will make an NFL roster this season and that’s from just 4 years of drafts.

When Jones supplants Walter as the other starting receiver (and he will), the Texans will start six players from their 2006 and 2007 draft classes and only Mario Williams and Amobe Okoye – the two first rounders – could be termed interlopers and that’s only because they’re going to get every opportunity to make it based on their draft position*. That’s significant because they’ll be joined by (as of right now) just seven** draft picks from the team’s first four drafts.

That exposes just how deep a rut Kubiak fell into when he joined the Texans in 2006. It had no talent among its first or second stringers and virtually no depth behind them. Those expecting this to be an easy turnaround likely had no concept of just how barren a roster Kubiak inherited.

But a few more Jacoby Jones’ dotting the roster could change that in a snap. Come to think of it – hey, Dad: Grab the binoculars case…

* The number would actually, likely, be seven if Charles Spencer were healthy.

** The number is actually six with Glenn Earl being lost for the year, and it may fall to five if Steve McKinney beats out Fred Weary.

Ric Sweeney is asking people to please leave the poor, sick monkeys alone – they’ve got problems enough as it is.

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