HOUSTON (AP)In the final month of last season injuries had decimated Houston’s receivers to the point that DeAndre Hopkins was just about Deshaun Watson’s only viable target.
Fast forward to this season and Watson is in a much different situation as quarterback of a team that not only has Hopkins, but also features Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Keke Coutee.
Hopkins has been Watson’s favorite target since he was drafted in 2017 and the three-time Pro Bowler had the best season of his career in 2018 in Watson’s first full year as starter. Hopkins ranked second in the NFL with a career-best 1,572 yards receiving and he led the team with 11 touchdowns.
The performance came in a year where Fuller missed the last nine games after tearing a knee ligament.
The Texans traded for veteran Demaryius Thomas soon after Fuller was injured, but he sustained an Achilles tendon injury and didn’t finish the season. These injuries came in a season where Coutee missed 10 games with a recurring hamstring injury as a rookie.
The Texans opened camp feeling good about their depth at receiver with Fuller and Coutee healthy and the group got another boost when they acquired Stills in a deal with Miami on Aug. 31.
Watson is excited about all his options at receiver and thinks they’ll only get better as the season progresses.
”It’s always good to have weapons, I just try to get the ball in those guys’ hands and let them go to work,” he said. ”That’s what they get paid to do, to get the ball and make something happen in space. It’s always good to have healthy receivers that can fly around and make plays for you. It’s fun to get everyone healthy and try to get back on the same page and get more experience as the game days and the practices continue.”
Coach Bill O’Brien has been impressed with how quickly Stills has learned the offense and made the adjustment to his new team. But he isn’t surprised at how seamless the transition has been because of what he’s seen from the seven-year veteran since the trade.
”In the short time that I’ve been around Kenny, he’s one of the harder-working guys at that position that I’ve been around,” O’Brien said.
”We have a lot of hard workers in our wide receiver room and he fits right in. He’s here early. He’s here till 8, 9 o’clock at night learning, taking care of his body, running routes, doing things just to get used to our offense and what we do.”
Stills has seen limited work in Houston’s first two games, but is averaging 12.5 yards a catch on his five receptions this season.
”He’s made some big plays,” O’Brien said. ”He’s a guy that I think we need to continue to develop in our system and keep getting in there.”
Stills, who spent the past four seasons with the Dolphins, is thrilled to be playing with Watson, a player he’s admired since he entered the league.
”It’s been great,” he said. ”You see we have some chemistry out there already, and he’s a great player. He makes plays in this offense. I’ve watched him from afar the past couple of years, so I’m excited to be here and I’m excited about the potential that we have as a team and as an offense.”
Watson said the Texans are looking for a sharper performance in the passing game on Sunday after he threw for 159 yards in a win over the Jaguars last week in just his fifth career start where he didn’t have at least 200 yards passing.
”You try to correct everything, all the mistakes that you made the previous week, but also just kind of try to get better each and every week,” Watson said. ”We knew that game last week was going to be tough … it’s history that Jacksonville and Houston is always a battle to the end. You just try to focus on that next page and continue to grow and get better each week.”
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