Texans receiver Jaelen Strong's '180 degree' turn impresses his team

"Probably one of the most improved players on our football team, Jaelen Strong," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON -- There should come a point soon when Jaelen Strong no longer has to explain what happened his rookie year, why he showed up so woefully out of shape, why his development delayed throughout the 2015 season and why his coaches weren't sure they chose well.

There should come a point when Strong's present outweighs his recent past.

Until then, Strong will stand at the podium like he did on Tuesday at NRG Stadium and take it.

He's done it over and over again this offseason, seemingly never tiring of explaining why and how he became a dependable receiver for the Houston Texans. Each time he does it he shows exactly the kind of growth and maturity that has so impressed his coaches and teammates. Strong could have pouted his way out of an NFL future, but instead he took responsibility for what caused his conundrum. He seems changed. In some ways even his mistakes have shown that.

It's why Strong is now called one of the most improved players on the Texans roster. It's why his teammates talk glowingly about his attitude. It's why he could be well on his way to going from oft-inactive in 2015 to a starter in 2016.

"There were times I questioned myself," Strong said. "I had to look in the mirror and really say to myself 'It's time to go.' You can't come this far and then just give it all up. It's time to go. I took the coaching and the criticism, I took everything and just got right."

The transformation began with his body.

Now a wiry 6-foot-4 and under 210 pounds, Strong is fitter than he’s ever been in Houston. Watching him a year ago might have made you wonder why a tight end was wearing No. 11. Nope, that was just Strong, nearly 30 pounds heavier than what he is today.

He cut meals. He ran more. He lost the weight.

The transformation continued with his mind.

A year ago he'd just spent a pre-draft process listening to others exalt him. He came out of Arizona State known for spectacular plays, including a Hail Mary catch against USC that became his signature college play. The compliments fed his ego and his spiral.

"When you are making this jump (to the NFL), everybody's telling you the good stuff about you," Strong said. "... No one really has your best interests. At that point, you have to dig deep. When I came here, I know the organization really cared about me. They really showed that they really wanted me here."

He wants to repay them for their faith.

His February arrest for marijuana possession could have been a red flag. Strong and two friends, including Packers cornerback Damarious Randall, were in a Maserati without license plates. Strong admitted to having marijuana without a medical card and his friends were not cited.

In the aftermath, though, he showed his growth.

"The next day he called me, (he was) working on the field, working on his craft," said DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans' No. 1 receiver.

And when Strong had to address the arrest publicly, he took it again. He admitted to being embarrassed by the situation and spoke of letting down his team and family. Never once did he lash out at or shy away from the questions. It's a small gesture that few manage.

Now Strong is giving the Texans what they hoped for on the field when they traded up in the 2015 draft to take him in the third round. His sure-handedness has shined during the Texans' offseason practices. He's become a receiver upon whom quarterback Brock Osweiler can depend, even at this early stage. He's part of the reason the Texans' young receiving corps looks so crowded with talent.

"Probably one of the most improved players on our football team, Jaelen Strong," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "From this point where he was last year compared to where he is now, he has turned it around 180 degrees. ... He's a guy that I think we're all proud of."

If Strong can maintain his current path, his future could be so splendid we all forget.

If he keeps this up, he might stop having to answer for where he's been.