Notes, Quotes

The Sports Xchange

April 29, 2018 at 10:44 pm.

–The collision didn’t faze Keke Coutee, absorbing a big hit and not even breaking stride for an instant.

Instead, the dynamic Texas Tech wide receiver ricocheted off of a futile attempt to knock him off his feet. He just kept accelerating into the open field, juking defensive backs for a touchdown.

Whether it was creating separation on a fly pattern, eluding pursuit and making defenders fall to the ground on underneath catches, returning a kickoff for a touchdown against Baylor or being utilized on reverses, the Lufkin, Tex., native constantly remained a step ahead.

Coutee is a classic slot receiver who doubles as a dangerous return man. Those skill sets should come in handy for the Texans as the fourth-round draft pick and 103rd overall selection will immediately challenge Braxton Miller for the slot returner job while working in tandem with Chris Thompson on returns.

“I envision myself, I really want to compete for a job,” Coutee said. “Most importantly, the Texans really need a slot and I feel like they got one of the better slots in the draft.”

The Texans’ coaching staff is intimately familiar with Coutee and what an elite slot receiver is supposed to look like.

Texans assistant Wes Welker, a former New England Patriots and Denver Broncos Pro Bowl wide receiver, worked Coutee out privately. Welker and Coutee both piled up prolific receiving numbers at Texas Tech.

Coutee ranks second behind Michael Crabtree for the most receiving yards in a single season in school history. Coutee caught 93 passes for 1,429 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

Welker is thrilled with the addition of Coutee.

“We’ve been in contact throughout this whole process,” Coutee said. “He worked me out at my private workout. Just to be able to work with him and have him teach me the game a little more and how to run routes, that’s really big.”

–When the Texans called him Saturday afternoon, Duke Ejiofor was pleasantly surprised to hear from his hometown team.

The Wake Forest outside linebacker-defensive end had no idea that the Texans liked him at all. The former Alief Taylor standout didn’t meet with the Texans at the NFL Scouting Combine. He didn’t speak with them during the entire draft process until they picked him in the sixth round with the 177th overall selection.

“I didn’t think they had any interest in me at first,” Ejiofor said from his Houston home. “Seeing them call me is the greatest blessing in the world.”

A former Chronicle top 100 selection, the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder grew up rooting for the Texans and is excited to join pass rushers J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. He played college football with Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson.

“That’s just a dream come true,” Ejiofor said. “It’s crazy. I can’t believe I’m about to join them and learn from them as well.”

Ejiofor recorded 50 tackles, 17 for losses, 10.5 sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles as a college junior. As a sophomore, Ejiofor led the team with 4.5 sacks despite missing five games due to a concussion.

“Duke has size, athletic ability, can rush the passer,” said Conroe head coach Cedric Hardeman, a former Alief Taylor assistant coach. “He’s a great kid. He’s real laid-back, real quiet, a really hard worker.”

Ejiofor was projected to go much higher in the draft initially and visited the New England Patriots, but underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this winter. He expects to be medically cleared by late July or early August for training camp.

“My shoulder is doing well,” said Ejiofor, who attended the medical recheck in Indianapolis on April 12. “I’ll be cleared by training camp.”

Ejiofor joins former Alief Taylor teammate Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, the Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year from Oklahoma who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fifth round, in the NFL.

“It’s the greatest thing ever,” Ejiofor said. “We all went through that process. To see it finally pay off is one of the ultimate blessings.”

–The Texans continue to fortify one of the thinnest positions on their roster.

In the wake of starting tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz retiring due to multiple concussions, the Texans drafted Central Florida receiving tight end Jordan Akins in the third round on Friday.

They drafted a bigger tight end when they picked Mississippi State standout Jordan Thomas in the sixth round.

Once listed at 6-foot-5, 280, Thomas says he’s down to 270 pounds. He’s run the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds.

Thomas caught 22 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns last season. He caught 31 passes for 311 yards and four scores in two seasons.

A former top-ranked junior college recruit, Thomas is 6-foot-5, 270 pounds and has operated as a traditional in-line blocker and split outside.

“I played a lot of outside receiver,” said Thomas, who worked out privately for the Texans at his school before the draft. “I’m definitely an all-around tight end.”

Thomas joins former Mississippi State offensive tackle Martinas Rankin, a third-round draft pick, on the roster along with Texans starting inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney.

“Man, it’s great,” Thomas said of Rankin. “Me and him have grown close through this process. I’m very happy for him. That’s a brother to me. To see him succeed is great.”

–Texans rookie outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi seems well-suited for immediate special-teams duty. The sixth-round draft pick from Stanford is 6-foot-3, 252 pounds, has 4.57 speed and has recorded a 35 1/2-inch vertical leap.

Kalambayi said he’s experienced working in a 3-4 defensive scheme. He primarily played defensive end in a nickel defense, but stressed he can cover.

“It’s going to be a lot of things I’ve done already,” Kalambayi said. “Obviously, the defense will have some different nuances. I’m excited to get after it.”

The son of immigrants from the Congo and Trinidad and Tobago, Kalambayi played high school football in North Carolina where he was teammates with Texans offensive tackle Kendall Lamm. He played in college with Texans rookie safety Justin Reid.

Kalambayi had 18.5 career sacks. He was voted a team captain the past two seasons.

“It was a great feeling knowing that my teammates look at me as a a guy who does the right things and wanted me to represent them,” Kalambayi said. “It’s a great honor. I think it means more when your teammates vote on it.”

–When San Jose State cornerback Jermaine Kelly visited the Texans in the weeks leading up to the draft, he saw Texans star J.J. Watt in the training room. Watt was happy to oblige him for a photograph, which is now proudly displayed on Kelly’s Instagram.

It was a precursor to Kelly joining the AFC South franchise Saturday when they selected him in the seventh round with their final draft selection.

“He’s a great dude,” Kelly said. “He’s someone I’ve been looking up to ever since Hard Knocks. It was just a dream come true. He was so cool about taking a picture with me.

“From that moment on, I loved it here. Everybody’s cool. It felt like home right away, the way I bonded with the coaches. Everybody showed me love.”

Kelly is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound University of Washington transfer. He had 53 tackles, one sack and one interception last season. As a junior, he had 26 tackles and one fumble recovery.

The California native played wide receiver, cornerback and returned kicks in high school. He also ran track.

“I’m definitely going to be physical,” Kelly said. “I’m going to do all I can on special teams. I come in with a chip on my shoulder.

“Transferring from Washington was a humbling experience. Going down a level, I really had a chip on my shoulder. I knew I had to come back harder and show people I wasn’t a bust and that I took this game serious.”




Ferrell, Buckshot Calvert lead 2018 All-Name Team.

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