When it comes to the running game, the number one debate amongst Texans fans is that of who will be starting in the Houston backfield when they open the season against Indianapolis is Week One. Right now, all the rumblings out of camp is that it will be second year man Arian Foster. We all know his story: An undrafted free agent out of Tennessee who was actually cut in the final preseason game last year and eventually stashed on the practice squad for the majority of the 2009 season. But after Steve Slaton's nightmare of a sophomore season finally landed him on the IR, Foster got his chance and made the most of it. In the last two games of the season he rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown against Miami and then had a breakout performance in the season finale against New England, amassing 119 yards and a pair of scores. Since then, he's been most fans pick to be "the answer" to the teams rushing woes in 2009.
Next, you have the aforementioned Steve Slaton returning from a pretty serious injury. All the talking heads in OTAs were saying that he is on track to be ready for the season, but probably won't take contact until the preseason at the earliest. Recovery from the surgery he had was no joke, and it still has me skeptical that he will ever truly be able to be more than a third down back ever again. Which, as you'll recall, is what the Texans originally drafted him for. File this one under "to be determined."
After that, you have some unknowns. Obviously, the team didn't draft Ben Tate in the second round for him to not play. But he will have to earn his playing time. Sure, Matt Schaub is saying good things about him, but you have to prove it on the field to get in there. Chris Henry...well, I'm shocked he didn't get cut before Ryan Moats. Which, as most of us thought, was probably done as a favor to Moats more than anything, so he could catch on with a new team before camp starts. But Henry has pretty much been nothing but a disappointment since entering the league. Nothing out there suggest that the light will suddenly come on for him. Lastly, you got Jeremiah Johnson. While he is a personal favorite of mine, one has to wonder if he has any chance at all at the final roster. He would have to put on a real show in the preseason to have anything more than a spot on the practice squad.
With the five guys the Texans have on the current roster, and with Henry and Johnson long shots to break camp, the trio of guys seems to be Foster, Tate and Slaton. I guess you could certainly do worse with a "three-headed monster" than that. But my question that I'm putting up for debate on BRB nation is this: What if all three guys exceed expectations and have a high level of success? Sure, it's a good problem to have. But say they're all very good. Who sits? We've never really suffered a true running back controversy on this team before. And the Moats vs. Slaton thing was a feeble attempt last year, so let's not bring that up. I mean, if all three guys are just studs out there, who would you sit? All three have arguably different playing styles. But running back by committee has rarely been too successful at a high level to simply split the carries equally. You have to have a lead dog who is spelled by someone when he gets winded, followed by a short yard specialist and third down back.
Personally, I think the plan is to have Tate be the lead guy eventually. He won't be there in Week One probably. But, as I said before, his draft status means they are expecting him to be the guy, with Slaton doing what he was originally drafted for, being a third down back. Also, Slaton is so dangerous on a screen. Remember the success he had against Cincinnati last season on those dump offs? This leaves Foster to be the guy to spell Tate or to step in if he struggles or goes down with an injury.
Just my personal opinion on how it could work out. As camp draws nearer (Praise Durga!), the time for speculation is quickly coming to a close. Tate could come to camp and lay an egg, Slaton could look like he needs a walker. Foster could prove to be just a flash in the pan. We really don't know until they get out there. But it's nice to imagine having a running back tandem that's worth its weight on the roster. And, God willing, can actually punch the ball over the pylon in a short and goal situation.
I'd just like to end this piece by saying...eight days until the team reports for camp. It's almost here, my friends.