Andre Johnson fitting into new role with new team

INDIANAPOLIS — Andre Johnson squinted while trying to rack his memory.

Just how many quarterbacks had he played with during his 12 seasons with the Houston Texans? Finally, he came up with a guess: Eleven.

"Last year, we had three," Johnson said, laughing.

The actual number of Texans starting quarterbacks during Johnson's tenure in Houston was 10, causing him to shake his head and smile.

"I've played with a lot of quarterbacks," he said.

Johnson can laugh it off these days, now that he's a member of the Indianapolis Colts and has spent his offseason practicing with Andrew Luck, who has started every game since being drafted with the No. 1 pick in 2012.

That stability at the NFL's most important position — not to mention Luck's quick rise into the upper echelon of the league's quarterbacks — has Johnson embracing this chance for a fresh start in Indianapolis, where he is playing for a coach he's known for more than 15 years, has a locker next to one of his oldest friends (tailback Frank Gore) and is on a team that is a perennial AFC contender.

The Texans have played in just four playoff games in their 13-year history, Johnson appearing in all of them, but never advanced beyond the divisional round. The Colts have already been in six postseason contests since Luck come to town and reached the AFC title game last season.

"It was a frustrating few years, so just being here, it's like a breath of fresh air," Johnson told USA TODAY Sports after Wednesday's practice.

These voluntary sessions early in June are ones Johnson had stopped attending during his latter years in Houston as he feuded with the only NFL team he'd ever played for about his contract and the direction of the organization.

The seven-time Pro Bowler ultimately got his release March 9 after learning his role would be diminished.

His visit to Indianapolis days later sparked a sense of déjà vu to when he was a teenager in Miami, and then-University of Miami assistant coach Chuck Pagano was trying to lure him to Coral Gables.

Once again, Pagano's pitch worked — though he might not have needed to do much selling this time. Johnson had already focused on the Colts as his ideal destination.

"It was like my Miami family, and coach Pagano was just like, 'Hey man, this is like recruiting. I'm not letting you out of the building," Johnson said. "This is where I wanted to be. I came on my visit and was just hoping they could get the contract worked out."

Johnson, who will turn 34 next month, signed a three-year deal worth up to $21 million that included $10 million in guarantees. A two-time all-pro and likely Hall of Famer, he is among the most accomplished players on the Colts' roster.

But Johnson has landed in a place where he's not the face of the franchise (that's Luck), is filling an elder statesman role vacated by the departure of beloved Reggie Wayne (another former Hurricane) and probably won't be the No. 1 wide receiver (that has been T.Y. Hilton). It's meant Johnson has dropped his expectations for individual goals and isn't entering this season with specific catch or yard benchmarks that he needs to hit in order to consider the year a success.
In a new offense, with new teammates, he said he just can't look at it that way anymore.

"You're not really focused on how many balls and that stuff, it's just doing what you need to do to win. That's the biggest thing, and that's why I'm here," Johnson said. "I want to win, with the ultimate goal of the Super Bowl, and I don't know if that's 10 balls (per game) or two balls, or whatever.

"I think any receiver would love to go out and catch a whole bunch of passes. But, you know, I think at the same time — with the talent that we have — we have a lot of guys that can make plays. There's only one football, and when you get your opportunities, you have to make the best of them."

So, for now, Johnson is committing to Pagano's offseason plan, which means showing up for every voluntary workout. As the Colts recruited veteran players this offseason, Pagano specifically went looking for guys who would easily assimilate. Johnson, despite more than a decade playing for an AFC South division rival, was a natural fit.

"Just like a flowing river — jump in the flowing river," Pagano said, starting a winding analogy in which he compared team building to whitewater rafting. "Go with the flow.

"The guys that are trying to fight the current and swim upstream, what happens to them? You're going to drown. So my deal is, buy in. Jump in the river and let it go."

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