2011 Season in Review: Running Backs

A position-by-position look at the Texans’ 2011 season

The Texans had the top running back tandem in the NFL in 2011. and both finished in the top-20 in rushing – Foster fifth with 1,224 yards, Tate 19th with 942. No other team in the league had even two 800-yard rushers.

Foster made the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season and earned second-team All-Pro honors despite missing two-and-a-half of the first three games with a hamstring injury. He led the NFL with 141.6 yards from scrimmage per game and was the only running back with two 100-yard receiving games.

Foster had seven 100-yard rushing games, including 155 yards against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense and 111 against Atlanta’s sixth-ranked run defense. He was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October. He was third in the AFC with 12 total touchdowns, and his 285 rushing yards in the playoffs were the most by any player in his first two playoff games in NFL history.

Tate ranked seventh in the NFL with 5.4 yards per carry, just 0.2 yards behind league-leader Cam Newton. After missing his entire rookie season with an ankle injury, he became the 11th player in NFL history with back-to-back 100-yard games to start his pro career. He had four 100-yard games in 2011.

had 45 carries for 154 yards (3.4 average) and two touchdowns as the Texans’ third running back. Chris Ogbonnaya and Steve Slaton saw limited action for the Texans early in the season before being released.

Converted tight end began the season as the Texans’ starting fullback. He lined up at multiple positions and had five catches for 126 yards, a team record for a running back, in Week 3 at New Orleans. Casey suffered a pectoral injury in Week 5 against the Raiders, and became entrenched in the lineup after several strong lead-blocking performances.

Running Backs in Review
Starters: RB: Arian Foster (15 games – 2 in playoffs), Ben Tate (2 games), Derrick Ward (1 game) / FB: James Casey (7 games), Lawrence Vickers (1 game)

Newcomers: Vickers (free agent)

Injuries: Foster (hamstring, Weeks 1-3), Tate (groin, Week 5), Ward (ankle, Weeks 2-4), Casey (chest, Weeks 5-7)

Notable number: 5 – Players since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. Foster became the fifth in 2011, joining Brian Westbrook (2006-07), Thurman Thomas (1991-92), Marshall Faulk (1998-2001) and Priest Holmes (2001-03).

Key splits: The Texans were 9-2 in 2011 when rushing 30 or more times. They are 32-5 (.865 winning percentage) overall when running the ball 30 or more times under Gary Kubiak over the last six seasons. They’re 3-30 when rushing less than 25 times.

The Texans scored five touchdowns on 16 trips to the red zone (31.25 percent) in their first three games, which ranked 30th in the NFL. After Foster returned in Week 4, they scored on 22 of 44 (50 percent) trips inside the 20.

Season highlight: Week 7 vs. Tennessee – Foster and Tate both ran for more than 100 yards, the first such occurrence in team history, as the Texans routed their division rivals 41-7 at LP Field. Foster had 115 rushing yards, 119 receiving yards and three touchdowns, becoming the fourth player since 1970 with three touchdowns and 100 rushing and receiving yards in the same game. Tate had 104 yards on just 15 carries (6.9 average).

Season lowlight: Week 6 vs. Baltimore – The Texans had 25 carries for 93 yards (3.7 average), one of three times all season they failed to top 100 yards. They had the ball for just 27:48, their second-lowest time of possession of the season. Foster was limited to 49 yards on 15 carries (3.3 average) and dropped two passes, including one on third down in Ravens territory with 11 minutes remaining. Tate had nine carries for 41 yards but fumbled inside the red zone.

Quotable: “He’s growing up before our eyes… It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to watch a good player become a pro.” — Kubiak on Tate on Sept. 18, after Tate ran for 103 yards in the Texans’ victory at Miami, his second consecutive 100-yard game in place of Foster

“He’s a special player, and he does a lot of things other backs can’t and he sees things other backs don’t… That last touchdown he had kind of took the wind out of their sails.” – Left tackle on Foster Oct. 2, after Foster ran for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh

“I played terrible. I didn’t play a good game; it was obvious. That will never happen again. I played a bad game. It doesn’t matter what the variables are; I played a bad game. As a football player, I didn’t bring my A-game.” – Foster on Oct. 16, after the Texans’ loss at Baltimore

“Once he gets the ball in his hands, it’s hard to bring him down. If you’re in open space and it’s one-on-one, he’s going to win that battle nine of 10 times.” — Schaub on Foster on Oct. 23, after Foster turned a short pass into a 78-yard touchdown at Tennessee

“I guess he just thought I was going to go out of bounds, but I didn’t.” – Foster on Jan. 7, after tiptoeing down the right sideline past Bengals safety Chris Crocker on a 42-yard touchdown run in the Texans’ Wild Card playoff victory

“He’s kind of like Houdini back there. I call him Abracadabra. You never know what’s going to happen with him.” — Vickers on Foster on Jan. 12

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Texans go full pads, get free agents back on busy day

It was an eventful Thursday at the Methodist Training Center.

The Texans practiced in full pads in the morning for the first time in their 2011 training camp. Three key players – , and – sat out because they restructured their contracts with the team, making them ineligible to practice until the ratification of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The CBA was ratified by the NFL Players Association in the afternoon. That cleared the way for those three players – and the Texans’ 12 free agents – to join their teammates on the practice field for a 30-minute walkthrough.

“We didn’t know if we would have them back this afternoon or what,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “Things worked out good… We’ll come back in shorts tomorrow, and hopefully I’ve got them all on the same page by the weekend.”

Kubiak’s task now is to catch up the Texans’ free agents – including cornerback , safety , fullback , running back , quarterback and wide receiver – to the other 73 players on the roster.

“I think we’re ready to do that,” Kubiak said. “Those guys, I think they’re in good shape. We’ll see. I’ve got to evaluate them each day. We’ll be able to do that now. Those guys are chomping at the bit. They want to play football.”

That sentiment was echoed by just about every player who had to watch the first three days of practice from the sidelines.

“It was boring,” Joseph said. “It’s been a long time coming; seems like a whole year or two years since I’ve played any football with the lockout. Tomorrow, I’m just looking forward to it.”

Turning heads
First-round draft pick continued to turn heads in his first week of practice. The rookie defensive end from Wisconsin, who has been practicing with the first-team defense all week, blew by and charged through offensive linemen several times in one-on-one and team drills on Thursday.

“J.J. Watt is stepping up and being a starter right now,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “We didn’t see that early. Usually, you don’t step in and be a starter, but he’s come in and really accepted the role. I look at what the other players look at, and they seem like they think he fits in well, as do I.

“It worked out that we had some guys that played last year (who) weren’t able to practice and one of the starters from last year (Amobi Okoye) is in Chicago now, so it was an opportunity. Kube (Kubiak) says it a lot: ‘Anytime you get an opportunity, then take advantage of it.’ He’s doing that.”

Second-year linebacker also made the most of his opportunities on Thursday.

“Sharpton really flashed at me today,” Kubiak said. “DeMeco was out, so he got a chance to go in and run the defensive football team. Just watching him, I thought he did a hell of a job. had a very good day, and there are kind of new guys every day showing up. I liked the way Sharpton stepped in when he got a chance to run the football team.”

Receptive students
Last year’s first-round pick, cornerback , has been steadily improving in his second training camp. Kubiak at least partially attributed that to new defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.

“He’s doing a good job,” Kubiak said of Jackson. “He’s all business, but he was all business last year. Kareem comes here every day to work. I think he’s really taken to Vance. Our system that we’re running is really what he ran in college. I think he feels very comfortable in it.”

Safety also has enjoyed working with Joseph, a former NFL cornerback who coached in a 3-4 for six seasons in San Francisco.

“When you get a guy that knows exactly what his scheme is and a guy that knows how to help the players to make plays, it can only benefit the players if we all buy in,” Quin said. “And I think that we’re doing a great job of buying in, so we should be a whole lot better this year.

“With him bringing that excitement, that fun, that attitude to the game, to the practice field, to the meeting rooms, it makes the players relax a little bit but also be concentrating on what we’re supposed to do. When you’re relaxed and having fun, you’ll automatically play better.”

Health check
Inside linebacker (knee) sat out of the full-speed morning practice for the fourth consecutive day.

“I watched him run today,” Kubiak said. “I think he’s better every day. He’s not ready to come back out here quite yet, so we’re being smart with him. Is that this weekend? Is it next week? I don’t know. We’ll see. We’re day-to-day with that.”

Quotable
 “It was good. Just sitting here, watching and learning and sitting in the classroom, it was like taking a test again, like the ACT or something. It was fun to get back out here.”
-WR Jacoby Jones, on what it was like to get back on the field after waiting four days for the CBA to be ratified

“I’m a passionate football player. I love the game. I love the challenge. I love the fullback position, because it’s a position to where it’s going to make you either a man or a coward. One of the two. And so I’m going to be a man. I ain’t never seen a coward, heard a coward. Coward’s not in my vocabulary.“
-FB Lawrence Vickers, on his playing style