There's so much discussion to be had over the multitude of playoff scenarios surrounding the Texans and frankly... I want no more of it. My head is still reeling from the fact that we beat the Rams by just three points and adding complex statistics to the fray doesn't help. With that I turn to a bit of an off-topic discussion, though one that is still relevant to the team's near future.
No, I'm not going to put on my nonexistent analyst hat to try and dissect what the hell happened to him this year, because that's already been done by people much smarter than me. I'll only briefly recap the many theories for the sharp drop-off in production from a once rookie sensation to sophomore slumper. The problem isn't figuring out his problem(s); it's what to do with them/him.
Before we get to the central question, I'll do a quick summary of the common theories (in no particular order) as to why Slaton sucked.
1. It's not his fault, it's the offensive line's - Chester Pitts and Mike Briesel. What's the connection between both of them? Both manned the starting guard positions when the year started and both are currently on injured reserve. Also, let's not forget the ragdoll still starts at center, which makes it tough for any runner to find holes up the middle.
2. It's a confidence problem, not a lack of talent - Seven. That's the number of fumbles Slaton lost in 2009, tops in the league, even though he played in just eleven games before having to shut it down due to injury. That, coupled with the amount of times he was benched by Kubiak due to the recurring problem, probably had some sort of effect on his game, especially considering he lost just three the year before. There was also a clear lack of explosiveness hitting the open seams in the defense from "Super Steve," as opposed to last year when he ran with authority and presence. Could it be he was so focused on securing the ball he wasn't as keen on what was in front of him? If so, how could he possibly have fumbled that much? To be fair, the holes appeared with much less frequency than last year.
3. He was trying to do too much and lost what got him there - Slaton put on about 10-15 extra pounds of weight before the pre-season in an attempt to bulk up for what he expected to be added goal line duties. Those extra pounds could have been the determining factor in the sudden disappearance of top-end speed that he flashed last year.
4. Face it, the same concerns he had coming out of college are resurfacing. He's just not cut out to be a feature back in this league - ESPN lists Slaton as 5'9'' and 215 pounds, though the former is a generous number. Most feature backs are 5'11'' or above and the added height does make a difference when you're in the backfield behind tall, bulky offensive lineman. Even the coaching staff admitted they weren't expecting Slaton to be more than a third down specialist when they drafted him out of West Virginia. His fumbling problems were also apparent throughout his college career. Is it possible for us to chalk up his rookie year to one in which the league just didn't have sufficient game tape to prepare for him?
Rather than try and pick the best explanation(s), the focus should be on what direction the team should take regarding his future role. There are a few possible options.
Option 1: Give up on Slaton's feature back potential entirely and make running back a priority in the draft and free agency.
I don't think the team sees Chris Brown, Ryan Moats, or Arian Foster as the potential back of the future, though it is obviously too early to tell what we have in Foster. If the team really is committed to finding a new starting back, it would either have to come early in the draft or through a top-notch free agent. And no, I'm not talking about this fatass. I'm not a big fan of this option considering the various holes still either unsolved or needing improvement on the defensive side of the ball (CB, FS, WLB, DT), as well as the long-needed upgrade on the offensive line. Also, this would entirely rule out the possibility of Slaton regaining his former position, which the upcoming options include.
Option 2: Call it a bad season and move on with him as the guaranteed starter.
The dude did put up an outstanding 4.8 YPC average last year while gaining 1,282 yards rushing and another 377 receiving. He had easily the best season from a running back in Texans history. A common question fans and surely general managers and coaches ask themselves is how much time is too much/little time? It's only been a year, and it's not as if the sophomore slump is a newfound revelation. This seems to me a better option than the first, but I saved what I think is the best for last.
Option 3: Bring in competition with the hope Slaton will return to form, but the realization that other candidates may be necessary.
I'm inclined to believe a chunk of Slaton's problems this year have been confidence-related. There's no doubt the talent is there. For a small portion of his runs this year, Slaton showed the same toughness he exhibited all throughout last year, which tells me he's still got all the tools and hasn't completely lost the mindset necessary for success. You'd be hard pressed to find an article that questions Slaton's motivation, which tells me this is exactly the type of thing he needs to get him to where he needs to be. Let's be fair...when the only runners "breathing down your neck" are Chris Freakin' Brown, Moats, and an undrafted free agent, it's hard not to believe your job is entirely safe. I'm not entirely sure at the moment who the competition would be, though a guy like Mike Bell or even a slightly more expensive option like Chester Taylor comes to mind. This seems to me the most logical option that balances out an understanding of his explosive rookie season and disappointing sophomore campaign and what to expect in the future.
So there you have it. I'm off to the Rockets soon-to-be beatdown of the Clippers. Have at it in the comments section. What's your preferred course of action regarding Steve Slaton?