On the Texans' past, present at slot receiver

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
12:13
PM ET
It takes quickness, good hands and toughness. Good instincts and an intelligent football mind are a must.

It's considered the third receiver, but the intricacies of the slot receiver position are more numerous and more complicated than playing on the outside, where size and speed take a premium.

Having a dedicated slot receiver hasn't been such a big focus for the Texans in the past couple years, so much so that Texans coach Bill O'Brien wasn't so sure there was a true slot receiver on the roster when he looked at it initially. Per ESPN Stats & Information, the Texans targeted the slot 19.1 percent of the time during the past two seasons, and more of those targets went to Andre Johnson than any other player. Tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham were second and third on the list before Keshawn Martin, who played primarily in the slot.

But it's a position that's going to matter a lot in O'Brien's offense. Consider this: over the past two seasons, the Texans only targeted the slot 214 times total, per ESPN Stats & Info. The Patriots in 2011, the year O'Brien served as their offensive coordinator, targeted the slot 266 times in just one season. Wes Welker had 130 of those targets, catching 92 passes out of the slot.

"It is a totally different position," O'Brien said. "...On the inside I would say it is very important to be quicker than fast sometimes. It’s important to have good hands. It’s important to be a very tough guy, a guy that can block, run for us. Obviously a very smart and instinctive player because it moves a lot faster on the inside with different bracket coverages, one-on-one coverages and different leverages that they see, things that they see at the snap of the ball that maybe they didn’t see when they broke the huddle."

Mike Thomas could be the answer there. The organization has been pleased with Thomas since his arrival as soon as last season ended.

O'Brien was asked last month if he thought Thomas could fill that role, and the answer is that he's certainly among those who could. Thomas received praise from quarterback T.J. Yates for his offseason work.

"I've always been more powerful in the slot just to my strengths, I'm more of slot guy than an outside guy," Thomas said. "I definitely think I'll be out there every blue moon on the outside just to do some different thing. ...Within his offense, I mean, he can pretty much put anybody at any spot. He has that flexibility, so it's good."

Receiver Alan Bonner said he looks to Thomas for advice on the position. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, Bonner is enjoying practicing in the slot.

"Takes me back to my college days a little bit, so I can get in the slot and move around," Bonner said. "Gets me a lot of two-way gos so I don’t have to stick to one route."

And of course there's Martin, who is also competing to retain his role as a special teams returner.

"It's definitely tougher than our previous offense, but that's just the way coach O'Brien does it," Martin said. "He gives the receivers options to do things on certain defenses. that should work good for us just beating people. I feel like I fit well, going out there making plays and getting more confidence every day."

Tania Ganguli

ESPN Houston Texans reporter

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