Texans will treat rookies differently after Keke Coutee's injuries

After his 11-catch debut, Keke Coutee had 17 catches the rest of the regular season. He also had 11 catches in the playoff loss to the Colts. Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON -- After Keke Coutee's debut on Sept. 30, it was evident the Houston Texans had a solid No. 3 receiving threat and true slot receiver for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

But Coutee couldn’t stay healthy enough to make a major contribution in 2018.

Coutee first injured his hamstring during training camp and missed the first three games of the season. In his NFL debut against the Colts in Week 4, he caught 11 passes for 109 yards. Those 11 receptions were the most by a receiver making his NFL debut since 1970. But Coutee continued to deal with injuries to both hamstrings and played in just six regular-season games, finishing with 28 catches for 287 yards and a touchdown.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien said because of the time Coutee missed due to the hamstring injuries, the team has placed a “major emphasis” this offseason on meeting with the medical staff and strength and conditioning staff to discern the best way they can “ramp these guys up for the season” to avoid soft-tissue injuries.

“[Coutee’s] a great kid, hard worker, but he was injured a lot,” O’Brien said. “We have to figure that out. He has to figure that out. Because when he played, he played very well. He was very productive.

“Here’s a guy that has a bright, bright future, but we’ve got to figure out how we can keep him on the field because again, with every player, availability equals dependability, basically. He wants to be dependable. I know he’s working hard right now. We’re looking forward to having him. He’s a good football player. It’d be really good if we can have him for 16 games and then some.”

O’Brien said he believes part of the problem was that like all rookies, Coutee was focused on preparing for the combine, which requires a different skill set than actually performing on the football field.

“He’s training for the combine ... 40-yard dashes, three-cone drills, underwear olympics,” O’Brien said. “So, he comes to us and now we’re playing football. We’re not training for the combine, so I think we have to take into account that when it comes to rookies in a better way, which we’re talking about.”

The Texans hope this is the season they can have a healthy group of receivers. While All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been a consistent presence on the field for Houston, missing just one game in his six NFL seasons, No. 2 receiver Will Fuller has been unable to stay healthy. Fuller has played in just 31 games in three NFL seasons, and tore his ACL in 2018.

“We’ve got to figure out how to help these guys to stay healthy,” O’Brien said. “Keke is a very dynamic player ... but he only played a certain amount of games. He’s a great guy. He knows what he needs to do, but we’ve got to keep him healthy. Will Fuller is obviously a very dynamic player. Great speed, great route-runner, all those things, but we need him for a full 16-game season. So, we’ve got to figure that out. The players have to be part of that, too. They’ve got to keep their end of the bargain up and figure out how to stay healthy.”

O’Brien said the Texans have worked with Coutee this offseason on “what what to expect from a running standpoint and how to get his body ready for practice [and] get his body ready for the weight-room sessions,” something the coach and the training staff hope will make a big difference in 2019 not only for the receiver, but for all of the rookies coming in who were in the same position as Coutee a year ago.

“[Coutee has] learned a lot about it. We’re going to be better with it and I think it’s going to produce better results, obviously,” O’Brien said. “That can’t really happen again where you’ve got a guy that’s an excellent player and he missed three quarters of the season with a hamstring. That’s us and the player trying to get better.”