For four years now, Arian Foster has been "the guy" at the running back position for the Houston Texans. His heavy usage in 2012 might have led to the injuries that caused him to miss eight games in 2013. So it's no surprise that he has often been a topic of discussion this offseason. At today's press conference, head coach Bill O'Brien was asked about Foster's progress during OTAs this year.
"He’s got really good hand-eye coordination. He’s got good hands. He’s an instinctive player so he has a good idea about how to get open. And he enjoys being involved in the passing game, both on the protection basis and then routes. He’s had a good OTA period for us."
Of his 391 touches in 2012, just 40 of them were catches. This is a dramatic ratio swing from his previous year of 278 carries to 53 catches. O'Brien continued after being asked about the importance of pass-catching running backs:
It's most important to look at a player's skillset and figure out how he fits our system. For instance, if we have a back that's a three-down back like Arian is, we try to find ways to incorporate him in our passing game and the running and it works out really well for our offense. In the past, we've had guys like Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead that have filled those types of roles and it looks like Arian will be able to do that and more.
This is actually a pretty stunning comparison for Foster, who's been nothing short of a workhorse running back. As much success as Faulk and Woodhead had with the Patriots, they were used sparingly in comparison. Dave Zangaro noted their averages here.
During his 13-year career, he averaged 66.5 rushing attempts and 33 receptions per season. In 2008, when O’Brien was the wide receivers coach in New England, Faulk had his best pass-catching season; that year, he caught 58 passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns.
Woodhead spent the better part of three seasons with New England, including 2012, the year after O’Brien left. During his time with the Patriots, he averaged 83.3 rushing attempts and 30.6 receptions per year.
The clues are definitely there. Foster's usage could be much more specialized in 2014. With the additions of LSU running back Alfred Blue (who's drawn comparisons to a younger Foster) and veteran Andre Brown to go along with Dennis Johnson and Jonathan Grimes, Foster will have plenty of help in sharing the load. If true, gone will be the days of us fretting over him being run into the ground and prematurely ending his career.
Of course, this fits the New England model perfectly. For the past few years they've been using varying combinations of Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen at running back to great effect.
Fantasy owners will mourn the lack of reliable touches, but Texans fans might enjoy a much healthier, fresher Foster for a few more years than expected.
Read the full O'Brien press conference here.