Leading up to the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 11, we'll profile each position group on the 2011 Texans. Each article will contain excerpts from the 2011 Houston Texans Yearbook, the team's official season preview magazine that is on sale now at the Go Texan Store at Reliant Stadium and online right here. *
Lineup: RB Arian Foster (starter), RB Derrick Ward, RB Ben Tate, RB Steve Slaton, FB James Casey (starter), FB Lawrence Vickers
New arrivals: Casey (position change), Vickers (free agency)
Departures: FB Vonta Leach (free agency)
Two-and-a-half years after going undrafted out of Tennessee, Foster enters 2011 as the reigning NFL rushing champ. Foster set a new single-season rushing record for undrafted players last season with 1,616 yards. He also led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,220), rushing touchdowns (16) and total touchdowns (18) en route to first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
Foster was a weapon in the passing game in 2010, catching 66 passes for 604 yards. He was only the third player in NFL history with 1,600 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in the same season.
"I'm super proud of him," running backs coach Chick Harris said. "(He) had good work ethic all the way through training to get himself in a position to compete, and once he got an opportunity to play, he showed the talent that he has. He has been very good, and we just hope he can continue to grow."
The Texans have a stable of talented running backs behind Foster in Ward, Tate and Slaton. Ward, 30, averaged 6.3 yards per carry and scored a career-high four touchdowns in 2010. Tate, a second-round pick out of Auburn in 2010, is back after missing his entire rookie season with an ankle injury. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry on 20 attempts this preseason. Slaton led all rookies with 1,282 rushing yards in 2008.
Gone is Leach, the All-Pro fullback who signed with the Baltimore Ravens in free agency. He's being replaced by Casey, who was drafted as a tight end in 2009 but also backed up Leach for the past two seasons. Casey gives the Texans a versatile pass-catching threat out of the backfield with his ability to play multiple positions.
Vickers, who signed as a free agent from the Cleveland Browns, will compete with Casey for playing time. A 28-year-old Houston native, Vickers is a more traditional blocking fullback in the mold of Leach.
RBs coach Chick Harris on Foster: "Arian possesses both size and speed, and great vision and instinctiveness to make plays at any given moment. He has size, but he's a slashing runner. He's able to make quick, slashing cuts into seams. He can make himself small to get through, and then he has the power once he gets there to break tackles. He can show quickness in the open space to elude or avoid linebackers or DBs. From a pass protection standpoint, his physical size helps him to be a very good pass protector. He can stand up against any of the top rushers in the league in protecting the quarterback. His pass receiving skills are exceptional. He has a good feel for pass coverages and where to be so the quarterback can see him. He was successful last year, and we look for him to be successful this year."
Harris on Casey: "First of all, James Casey is a versatile athlete. He's been able to be successful at the tight end spot and then also working at our Tiger position and as the extra tight end in our one-back set. James is very smart. He's got the physical tools to do the job, he just has to have time at the job – working on the blocking that happens five yards behind the line, or lining up five yards behind the line and tracking linebackers. I think James is a quick study and he's a physical athlete, and we just hope that he'll continue to progress and he'll get nothing but better. People will look at us as a one-back offense, one-back attack, but now James can be at the fullback spot, he could be at the Tiger spot and give us all types of combinations of formations, and his excellent pass-catching ability would really help us in the passing game so that he could be a double threat."