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2010 season in review: Running back

Posted Mar 24, 2011

Our position-by-position look at the 2010 season continues with the Texans' running backs, who were led by Pro Bowlers Arian Foster and Vonta Leach.


Top performers: Arian Foster (327 carries, 1,616 rushing yards (4.9 avg.), 16 rushing TDs, 66 receptions, 604 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs), Vonta Leach (16 games, 5 starts at fullback)

Newcomers: Derrick Ward (free agency), Ben Tate (draft, second-round pick)

Major injuries: Tate (season-ending ankle injury in preseason)

Position coach: Chick Harris (30th NFL season, 9th with Texans)

Year in review: Foster and Leach were bright spots in the Texans’ disappointing 6-10 season. Both started in the Pro Bowl and were named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. Harris was the only position coach in the league with two All-Pro players under his watch in 2010.

Foster, an undrafted rookie in 2009, burst onto the NFL scene with 231 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries against the Colts in Week 1. He spent all but one week of the season as the NFL’s leading rusher, had 180 rushing yards against the Jaguars in the season finale and became the first Texan to win the league rushing title.

Foster also led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and first downs gained (123). He rushed for more yards than any undrafted player in NFL history and was just the third player ever to record 1,600 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in a season. He tied for the NFL lead with eight 100-yard rushing performances on the season.

Proving himself as a versatile threat out of the backfield, Foster was second on the team and among all NFL running backs in receptions. He led all running backs in receiving yards.

Leach didn’t have a carry for the second consecutive season, but he continued to establish himself as one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league. The seventh-year veteran, who has played in all 75 games since joining the Texans in 2006, had eight catches for 91 yards in 2010.

Ward, 30, signed with the Texans after the preseason and had a resurgent year as Foster’s backup. While providing veteran leadership to the younger backs, Ward ranked second on the team with 315 yards on 50 carries (6.3 average) and a career-high four touchdowns. He scored a touchdown in three consecutive games from Weeks 4-6.

Steve Slaton, who led the Texans in rushing in 2008 and 2009, was third on the team with 93 yards rushing. He also served as the Texans’ kickoff returner for most of the season. Tate was expected to be an immediate contributor as a rookie out of Auburn, but he spent the entire season on injured reserve after injuring his ankle in the Texans’ first preseason game.

Season highlight: Week 1 vs. Indianapolis. Foster had a historic day as the Texans beat the Colts for the second time in 17 tries. His 231 yards and three rushing touchdowns was the second-best season-opening rushing performance in NFL history (O.J. Simpson, 250 yards in 1973).

The Texans’ running game was so dominant that quarterback Matt Schaub, who led the league in passing in 2009, threw for only 107 yards. Schaub attempted just five passes in the second half, when Foster put up 23 carries for 191 yards and all three of his touchdowns. The Texans controlled the ball for 18:48 in the final two quarters after leading 13-10 at halftime.

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak called Leach’s performance in the game the best he’d seen from his veteran fullback, who was named the team’s co-MVP of the game for helping clear the way for Foster’s record day.

Season lowlight: Week 15 at Tennessee. Foster was limited to 15 yards on 11 carries, an average of 1.4 yards per carry, in the Texans’ 31-17 loss to the struggling Titans. Foster did have six catches for 46 yards, but it was his lowest rushing total of the season. The loss dropped the Texans’ record to 5-9 and officially knocked them out of playoff contention.

Foster was only held under 100 yards from scrimmage three other times in 2010, including a season-low 27-yard game (25 rushing yards, two receiving yards) against the Giants in Week 5.

Notable number: 22 – Running backs who were drafted in 2009, the year that Foster went undrafted out of Tennessee. Only one of those 22 running backs has had a 1,000-yard season: Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (1,080 in 2010).

Key splits: Foster was at his best on third down. On 35 third-down carries, he picked up a first down 23 times (65.7 percent). No other running back with at least 25 attempts had even a 50 percent success rate on third-down rushing.

Foster averaged an astounding 6.8 yards per carry on third down. On 19 rushing attempts on third-and-two or less, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry and gained 15 first downs.

Ward scored three of his four touchdowns from at least 30 yards out, each time in a Texans victory. He scored once every 12.5 carries, which was the highest frequency of any running back in the NFL who had at least 50 carries. The next-best player was Brandon Jacobs of the Giants, who scored once every 16.3 attempts.

Quotable: “I like to view myself as kind of like water, man. I kind of just take what you give me, and I kind of just move forward with the resistance.”
- Foster, ever the philosopher, on his style as a runner while on a national conference call after his big day in Week 1

Looking ahead: All of the Texans’ tailbacks will be back in 2011. Foster, an exclusive rights player, was tendered by the Texans on March 3 to ensure his return to the team.

Ward was a free agent after the season but re-signed with the Texans before the lockout. He’ll likely be pushed for playing time by Tate, who received full medical clearance in February and is hungry to show why he was drafted in the second round. Slaton will return for his fourth season in 2011.

Leach’s future is up in the air. Whenever free agency begins, he’ll be unrestricted and free to sign with any team, including the Texans. Leach has said multiple times that he wants to retire as a Texan, and the Texans certainly appreciate his service and leadership in the locker room. How his situation plays out, only time will tell.

Content on HoustonTexans.com does not necessarily represent the views of the Houston Texans front office staff, coaches or executives.