3 and Out: Johnson, Graham ready for Rams
The Texans took a big hit this week when they lost starting tight end Owen Daniels for at least eight weeks, when the Pro Bowler was placed on the Injured Reserve with designation to return.
But just how big of a loss is Daniels?
Well, that’ll depend on how well Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin play in his absence.
“I don’t know,” said running back Arian Foster when asked if the team will miss a beat without Daniels. “You never know. OD’s a Pro Bowl player, but I can’t sit here and say Garrett can’t get the job done. He’s going to what he can and we’re going to what we can to help him.”
Graham is in his fourth year out of Wisconsin – where Daniels played his college ball too – and is off to the best start of his career. Through five games, Graham has 15 catches for 141 yards and three touchdowns. He’s already more than halfway to his career high in catches and yards. He set both last season. Daniels is second on the team in receptions, so it’s a big void to fill.
With Daniels out, Graham is the starting tight end, while rookie Ryan Griffin out of UConn, is the second tight end, an important position with the way the Texans’ offense operates. The team also signed Jake Byrne (another Badger) off the Chargers’ practice squad. Byrne was in Houston for training camp and with his familiarity with the offense, he could be ready to play if he’s active on Sunday.
“I feel good. I feel very confident in what I’m able to do,” Graham said while standing in front of his locker on Friday afternoon. “It’s kind of just like a normal week this week. Obviously, playing a little bit more and I’m looking forward to Sunday.”
Graham, who has been in for 62.8 percent of offensive snaps this season, said he expects to be on the field for 15 or 20 more snaps than usual. He said, aside from having to learn some new routes, his week of preparation as a starter hasn’t been much different from any other week.
The 27-year-old tight end is in his fourth year with the Texans. It’s also his final year under contract. He realizes this eight-week stretch can go a long way in proving that he’s capable of being a starter in the league.
“I think so,” Graham said. “I think anybody coming in the NFL and making a team wants to show that they can be a starter. So that’s something that I certainly want to do and show my teammates that I can do that.”
Griffin, the 6-4 rookie, will probably see the larger spike in his snaps this week. Griffin has been involved in just 3.5 percent of the team’s offense plays through five games. If he plays the same role that Graham behind Daniels, Griffin could be looking at 50-plus more plays per game.
“Yeah, that’s why I’m here,” Griffin said. “Back up OD and obviously we want him healthy and get him back as soon as possible, but I’ve got to be ready to play. This is my chance to get some meaningful snaps. And I’m ready.”
The rookie, who hails from New Hampshire, said he’s much more prepared to take on this role than he would have been when he first arrived to Houston. He has been receiving guidance from Daniels. Griffin said he doesn’t even have to ask Daniels to help; the Pro Bowler gives advice or corrections on his own.
“When I first came in here, I’ve just been learning every day,” Griffin said. “I am ready to go this week, more so than any other week. That’s as much as I can say.”
Graham isn’t Daniels. Neither is Griffin. “You can’t replace a guy like that,” Andre Johnson said.
But they’re going to try.