Andre Johnson opens up on his new reality

He's on pace for, by far, the least productive season of his esteemed 13-year NFL career, but Andre Johnson is still smiling.

Family and friends want to know why he's not putting up bigger numbers, but Johnson isn't fazed.

The reactions to Johnson's underwhelming season range from "told ya so" to utter surprise. Either way, it seems others are more consumed with evaluating the Colts' 7-time Pro Bowl receiver than Johnson himself is.

"People can say whatever they want and feel how they want," said Johnson, on pace for 43 catches and 512 yards. "I sleep good at night. I'm not really caught up in what people have to say. I've had a great career. I've caught a lot of passes and gained a lot of yards. I don't really get caught up in what outside people have to say."

That's not intended as a mean-spirited comment. Hardly. It was Johnson's way of expressing that he's content with his diminishing role in the Colts' offense (he played just 41 percent of the snaps in Sunday's win over the Denver Broncos).

You can ask him forward and backward, over and over, whether he entertains any second thoughts about joining the Colts as a free agent in March, and you'll get the same uninteresting and repetitive answer: I'm here to win.

There's just one conclusion: It's true.

Johnson was targeted three times Sunday and finished without a catch for the third time this season. In his 169 games with the Houston Texans, with whom he spent the previous 12 seasons before he was released in March, Johnson finished without a catch one time.

Now, he's giving way to the likes of Griff Whalen in the fourth quarter of a huge game. At other times, instead of being the featured receiver, he's run blocking for close friend Frank Gore. Imagine the adjustment this must require for a guy who is the best player in Texans history and has five seasons with 100 or more receptions.

And yet, Johnson is happily accepting this new reality.

"Like I've said before, you just have to do your part," Johnson said. "You have to put your pride to the side. Yeah, anybody would like to have six, seven balls a game. But that's not what it is. I've said before, it can be my day today and somebody else's day tomorrow. I'm sure nobody thought Griff was going to get in and catch the balls that he did. That's the biggest thing when you're trying to achieve that ultimate goal: You have to do things that you haven't done before."

There seems to be resignation both with Johnson and his coaches that he's not the player he once was. In fact, he's very clearly not the player the Colts thought he'd currently be considering they handed him a 3-year, $21 million contract before this season.

You can question the wisdom of the investment. But you cannot question Johnson's attitude – as well as its far-reaching impact on those around him.

The Colts' receivers are a young group. T.Y. Hilton and Whalen, both 25, are the senior members of the unit aside from the 34-year old Johnson. There is no better team-first example than what they're seeing from Johnson.

"We're a very young unit," receivers coach Jim Hostler said. "There's only one guy that's had a little bit of success, which is T.Y. But if you compare his success to Andre, it's not even close. So, when you have that kind of guy, even guys who have had success when they're young have to take notice of it. They have to actually understand that they're in the presence of a guy who has done this not just for three or four years, but for 10… This is a once-in-a-lifetime guy that's sitting in that room, taking a back seat and doing whatever he can. Things that he's never been asked to do, he's doing."

Interestingly, Johnson didn't need a talking to when he arrived, Hostler said. He arrived with the understanding that this would be a different situation than any he's experienced. And that has made his coaches' jobs easier. There's no need to massage his ego. And there's no unnecessary pressure to ensure Johnson gets the ball, lest he express his dissatisfaction and affect the delicate balance of the unit.

"He wasn't going to come in here and take over what T.Y. had already established with the quarterback," Hostler said. "You knew his focus was not about the money or the catches or getting to a certain level and trying to get to the Pro Bowl. His mindset was to come in here and help us in any way he could.

"Each week is different and he knows that. Some weeks we will ask a little bit more of him. Some weeks, his matchup might be a little bit better. But he also understands he might also have to do some other things to help us."

And when those times come, Johnson predictably, and quietly, does as he's asked.

"I'm embracing every part of it," he said. "Yeah, it's different for me. But I don't have a problem with it."

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