Andre Roberts caught the football cleanly before cutting upfield in a smooth routine he's done countless times.
The Texans' Pro Bowl return specialist is shedding the rust he accumulated while sidelined for the majority of the preseason with a bruised knee that required draining, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Now, Roberts is on track to make a full recovery in time for the Texans' season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"It felt great, it felt good," Roberts said. "I'll be ready Week One, for sure. There’s no frustration. It’s my 12th year, so I’ve played in the preseason and I’ve played a lot of games. So, there’s no frustration there.”
Roberts has not only survived in one of the most dangerous jobs in the NFL. He has absolutely thrived.
A Pro Bowl selection each of the past three seasons, the Texans' new return specialist has remained remarkable durable and productive as he heads into this 12th NFL season. Signed by Texans general manager Nick Caserio to a two-year contract with a maximum value of $6.7 million that included a $1 million signing bonus, $2.5 million guaranteed and an annual $100,000 Pro Bowl incentive, Roberts, 33, is getting better with time.
"Early on in my career, I played more receiver," said Roberts, a former standout at The Citadel. "I did a lot of punts in college, so it was not like I had never done it before, but just doing it more, seeing it more, seeing the blocks and just getting more comfortable with it.”
The former Arizona Cardinals third-round draft has averaged 9.0 yards per punt return for his career with three touchdowns and 25.8 yards per kickoff return with two scores.
A return can provide field position, and an emotional spark for a football team.
“I think everybody feels the same way about it," Roberts said. "It just brings the team to life. It doesn’t matter if we’re winning by a lot or if we’re losing. It just brings that extra, whatever it is our team needs to life and gives us some momentum.”
The Texans currently have five wide receivers on the roster, including Roberts, and Anthony Miller is still dealing with the effects of a dislocated shoulder. Roberts could be called upon to play wide receiver in addition to his special teams duties.
“My role is to be the returner, I know that," Roberts said. "And if they put me in there at wide receiver I’m going to do my job at the highest level that I can.”
Roberts averaged 30 yards per kickoff return and 9.9 yards per punt return last season for the Buffalo Bills. Roberts has caught 261 career passes for 3,044 yards and 15 touchdowns in 163 games with the Cardinals, WashingtonFootball Team, DetroitLions, Atlanta Falcons, Jets and Bills.
“A lot of pride," Roberts said. "As a player, you want to make the all-pro team, and the Pro Bowl is a bonus, but I take a lot of pride in being the best in the league, and I try to be the top of the league every single year that I'm playing.”
Roberts is arguably the Texans' most accomplished free agent acquisition this offseason.
The veteran return specialist has been named to three consecutive Pro Bowls, including one All-Pro selection in 2018 with the New York Jets.
"Any player that's in the return game, you want to be able to attack aggressively," Texans special teams coordinator Frank Ross said. "I think just watching the course of his career, especially in the kickoff and punt return game that he's had and even as a ball carrier on offense, he runs aggressively, attacks downhill, finishes runs as a returner and you just love to see that. Playing against him multiple times in our past, he's been a spot that, 'Hey this is an emphasis we've got to cover this guy.'"
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128