Andre Johnson spent most of the Houston Texans' first OTA with a white towel covering his head, shielding him from the harsh Texas sun. After last season — the most frustrating and invigorating season of his career at the same time — Johnson's learned how important it is to protect himself.
With that in mind, No. 80 will not be taking any snaps in these offseason practices or organized team activities as the NFL likes to call them. Johnson got an arthroscopic scope on his left knee just two weeks ago, the result of a hyperextended knee he suffered against Jacksonville last Nov. 27.
So on the first day of a campaign that the Texans legitimately believe can end with them playing in the Super Bowl in New Orleans on Feb. 3, the team found itself with both its starting quarterback and lifeline wide receiver sitting out. Matt Schaub and his rebuilt right foot will not be participating in OTAs either.
Johnson wasn't just dealing with the multiple hamstring injuries. He also battled against a knee that needed to have fluid drained from it in order for him to get on the field.
"Matt's fine," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Matt could probably do some things. He could do seven-on-seven (passing drills).
"But if you haven't passed a physical, you're not going to step on the field. It's that simple."
That's the first of about a thousand times someone with the Texans will assure that Schaub is "fine" before anyone sees him on the field in a competitive environment. In many ways, the Texans' chances for a Super season will rest on just how fine Schaub is, but the real verdict on that likely won't be in before September.
As Johnson himself pointed out when talking about his own knee issues, "There's no need to panic. It's May."
No. 80 is about as cool a customer as there is in the NFL — no matter what's going on around him. But it's his tolerance for pain, and his ability to still perform at an elite level while dealing with injuries, that help make him the most respected player in the locker room.
It turns out that Johnson wasn't just dealing with the multiple hamstring/leg injuries last season, ailments that limited him to career-low seven regular season games. He also battled against a knee that needed to have fluid drained from it in order for him to get back out on the field.
"I'm not getting no younger," Andre Johnson said. "But I'm not old."
And what does Johnson do once he returns?
Catch 13 passes for 201 yards in the first two playoff games of his career. Johnson may have been playing on one good leg. Or half a good leg. But he still gave the Texans' offense a passing threat, catching that 40-yard touchdown bomb against Cincinnati and outfighting defensive backs for many of his eight catches the following week in that oh-so-close second round loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Just think if the 30-year-old Johnson ever does get to play a completely healthy season for a team with Super Bowl level talent. That's what drives him. That's why he'll sit out OTAs and likely get plenty of extra rest in training camp as well (if the Texans are smart, Johnson will barely play in the preseason too).
"I'm not getting no younger," Johnson said. "But I'm not old."
Johnson thought his knee had "calmed down" as he puts it, but the fluid kept returning and the knee kept swelling up, triggering this surgery.
"We decided, 'Let's just get it fixed,' " he said, shrugging.
"This is my 10th season. I've been through OTAs a lot of times. They're not going to do anything new to me."
Instead, the newer guys are getting a chance. Kubiak talked in particular about the "great opportunity" in front of second-year wide receiver Lestar Jean. The former undrafted free agent suddenly finds himself getting first-team reps with Johnson sidelined and Jacoby Jones cut.
"I see a lot of talent," Johnson said of the Texans' young wideouts, a group that includes draft picks DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin. "You could tell today was the first day for a lot of them.
"They'll calm down."
No. 80 is always calm. He knows what's ahead of him is most important. He won't sweat missing May. His dreams center on the winter to come.