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NFL 2014: Possibility of WR Johnson holding out casts shadow over start of Houston Texans camp

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HOUSTON - As the Houston Texans prepare for the start of training camp on Saturday, their biggest question mark involves a player who probably won't be there when they take the field.

Disgruntled receiver Andre Johnson skipped off-season workouts and mandatory minicamp after wondering in May if Houston was "still the place for me."

A holdout by the face of the franchise and the team's longest-tenured player could cast a pall on the beginning of coach Bill O'Brien's first season.

O'Brien has tried to downplay the situation so far, but that tact will be much more difficult if Johnson's holdout stretches much longer.

Johnson joined the franchise in its second season and has said that playing on just three teams with winning records in 11 seasons "can become very frustrating."

The Texans were among the favourites to reach the Super Bowl entering last season after reaching the playoffs the previous two years.

But things quickly fell apart due in large part to poor play by quarterback Matt Schaub, coach Gary Kubiak was fired in December and they finished 2-14 to tie the worst record in franchise history.

The 33-year-old Johnson, whose 1,407 yards receiving in 2013 ranked second in the AFC, is unhappy at the prospect of enduring another rebuilding project after seeing the moves the Texans made in the off-season.

If they can't get him back on the field it will leave a big hole in O'Brien's new offence and put much more pressure on last year's first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins.

Here are some things to know about the Texans as camp begins.

CLOWNEY'S HEALTH: Jadeveon Clowney, the top overall pick in this year's draft, may not be ready to practice on the first day of training camp after having sports hernia surgery in June.

O'Brien said that he expected Clowney to be ready for training camp when he disclosed the procedure on June 13. But the former South Carolina standout told reporters recently that he isn't sure if he'll be cleared to practice by Day 1. Training camp will be important for the former defensive end who is making the transition to outside linebacker in defensive co-ordinator Romeo Crennel's system.

O'BRIEN'S TEAM: O'Brien returns to the NFL for his first head coaching job in the league after spending the past two seasons coaching Penn State. He took over the Nittany Lions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and led the team to winning records in both 2012 and 2013 before being hired in Houston. He comes to the Texans with a reputation as a quarterback guru after spending three seasons working as Tom Brady's position coach with the Patriots.

FITZPATRICK TAKES OVER: Houston traded Schaub to Oakland in the off-season and signed veteran free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was selected as the starter during minicamp by O'Brien. Fitzpatrick started nine games for the Titans last season after Jake Locker was injured, but there are questions about whether he's the answer to Houston's quarterback woes.

"He does a good job of controlling the offence and ... getting together with other groups and trying to let them see everything through the quarterback's eyes," quarterbacks coach George Godsey said. "I think he's done a good job of trying to keep that steady."

They also have Case Keenum, who started eight games last season after Schaub was benched, and drafted Tom Savage in the fourth round of this year's draft.

CRENNEL'S RETURN: Crennel returns to coaching for the first time since he was fired as coach of the Kansas City Chiefs following the 2012 season. He inherits a defence that features 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and should get a boost with the return of middle linebacker Brian Cushing, who suffered a second straight season-ending knee injury in Houston's seventh game last year.

Crennel's excited about coaching again and said at age 67 the most important factor was the people he'd be working with.

"We all want to win, but if you've got good people and you can work with good people that makes the job easier," he said. "I felt that the people were good people and that I would enjoy working with them. That made it easier for me to come and give it a shot."

CAN FOSTER RETURN TO FORM: Arian Foster has recovered from back surgery that ended his season in 2013 after eight games. He participated in minicamp and the Texans are counting on him to return to form this year. Before the injury shortened season he ran for at least 1,200 yards in three straight seasons, highlighted by his breakout 2010 season when he rushed for an NFL-leading 1,616 yards.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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