Hard to imagine too many Texans fans remember the name Marcellus Rivers. The tight end spent just the 2005 season in a Texans uniform as their leading pass catching option from that position. That season, way back in 2005, was the last time the Texans entered a new season without Owen Daniels as their leading pass catching option at tight end. Until now since that spot is now held by Garrett Graham, who will be entering his fifth season with the Texans.
Graham was still two years away from catching his first pass at the University of Wisconsin, where he initially followed in the footsteps of Daniels. He was re-signed by the Texans this past offseason to a three-year, $11.25 million contract to lead the a very young tight end group for new Texans head coach Bill O'Brien.
"I'm going to be in my fifth year. I'm obviously one of the older guys in the locker room," Graham said. "(Being a leader) is something that comes with the territory. I'm just focusing on really just getting the playbook down. There's a lot to learn, a lot coming at you."
Last season, what was coming at Graham more was the football. Before missing the final three games of the season with a hamstring injury, only Andre Johnson saw more targets than Graham. He was targeted 89 times, catching 49 passes for 545 yards and five touchdowns, easily surpassing his career numbers through his first three seasons, when he caught just 29 passes for 287 yards and three scores. His five touchdowns also tied Johnson for the team lead. It was the third consecutive season a tight end had led the team in touchdown receptions.
However, with a brand new offense being installed throughout the offseason and ongoing OTAs, Graham is not much different than the other five tight ends on the roster.
"So far I've felt pretty comfortable with everything we've been doing. I think I'll have a similar role as I've had in the past," Graham said. "Just continuing to try to get better, be a good teammate and try and make some plays."
While all the tight ends are learning the new offense together, the group is very inexperienced. Ryan Griffin caught 19 passes for the Texans last year as a rookie. None of the other four tight ends played in the NFL last season. Veteran tight end Zach Potter caught 11 balls over four seasons with the Jaguars, but did not play last season and the other three tight ends in camp are rookies, including third-round selection C.J. Fiedorowicz.
Graham said the differences in last year's scheme versus this year's scheme are hard to explain, but he is right in line with what coach O'Brien has been saying since he arrived - flexibility will be expected from the tight ends.
"All of us are trying to learn both (tight end) positions, formationally, running routes and being able to do things blocking wise," Graham said. "You're able to be flexible at certain points (in some of the plays). (We're) just trying to nail everything down and be versatile and try to be able to play a couple different tight end positions. Different formations can put you in different spots. Recognizing the defenses and what you should do on those plays is what we're trying to do right now. With different plays (than last year), you're going to see different things, you have to keep your head up certain plays."
In O'Brien's last season in New England in 2011 when he was offensive coordinator, the Patriots tight ends caught 169 passes for 1237 yards and 24 touchdowns. Granted, those two tight ends were Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski and it was Tom Brady throwing them the ball, but the diversity of that offense and flexibility of those tight ends might be an indicator of how important the tight ends will be for the Texans.