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Echemandu seizing opportunity


He's not your average Joe. In fact, please don't call him Joe.

He's Adimchinobi Joseph Echemandu, who came up as an unknown from the Texans' practice squad last week and gave a brief spark to the team's stagnant running game with 62 yards on 10 carries against the San Diego Chargers.

"Some of my friends call me Joe, but I like to be known in public as Adimchinobi Echemandu," he said. "When the public sees me, I want my heritage to be out there, to know I'm from Nigeria."

Now, fans know he's the guy from Nigeria who could help restart the Texans' running game, hampered most of the season by injuries, especially to starter Ahman Green. In fact, Echemandu is the fourth player of Nigerian descent on the Texans, along with defensive end N.D. Kalu, defensive tackle Amobi Okoye and practice squad wide receiver Devin Aromashodu.

Fans cheered when Echemandu ripped off a 20-yard gain against the Chargers last week. Then, they groaned as he pulled up lame with a hamstring pull. Now, he's day-to-day for Sunday's game against the Raiders, the last team to cut him.

"It was crazy," Echemandu said of his injury. "I thought I was well hydrated and it just snuck up on me. I got up and saw it grabbing and throbbing. I went to the locker room and tried to finish up, but it got painful in the fourth quarter."

{QUOTE}His availability for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders is still up in the air after he was limited in practice the past two days. He was with the Raiders two seasons but was cut this season and signed onto the Texans' practice squad on Oct. 10.

Echemandu's big gain against the Chargers was a career high.

"It felt good until the hamstring grabbed me," Echemandu said. "I was disappointed, but this is football. You have to learn to toughen up and go through them (injuries)."

The Texans rank 30th among the 32 NFL teams in rushing, averaging 80.5 yards per game. Echemandu's 6.2 yards per carry looks good if he can overcome his injuries and produce against his former team.

He's not returning to Oakland with a grudge.

"I think they treated me pretty well in Oakland," Echemandu said. "I wish I had more opportunity to play, but there's nothing angry about it. If you're not a first rounder or the highest paid guy, you are expendable any where you go. You'll see that happen with guys in this business."

The return of Dominic Rhodes led to Echemandu's exit from the Raiders.

"Dominic Rhodes was on suspension for the first four games," Echemandu said. "There came the time when he got off suspension, so basically I was the odd man out. It was a numbers game."

In a conference call with the Houston media, Raiders coach Lane Kiffin echoed those sentiments.

"Yes, it just became a number situation and we were trying to get Adimchinobi back here on our practice squad and we decided because we had so many backs, that it would be a better situation there for him," Kiffin said. "I'm happy to see him do well because he's a great kid. He came to work every day with a smile on his face and was one of the hardest workers we had."

The Raiders have a strong running game built around Justin Fargas and LaMont Jordan. Fargas rushed for 179 yards against Miami. Jordan has rushing performances of 159 yards against Denver and 121 yards against Cleveland.

In other words, the Raiders were set with their rushing offense, which ranks sixth in the NFL. That left Echemandu outside looking for a new home.

"I had offers other places, but the thing about Houston is they're starting off good and they have a system that was similar to Oakland, so the learning curve would be small for me," Echemandu said. "I could get in here and already know the system and have a head start."

Echemandu's 62 yards tied for the third-best rushing performance for a Texan this year. Dayne had 62 yards on 15 carries against Atlanta. Green had 73 yards in the season opener against Kansas City and 71 the next week against Carolina.

Echemandu's playing status will depend on Green's progress at recovering from a knee injury that's kept him either inactive or less than 100 percent since the second week of the season.

Coach Gary Kubiak is watching his running back corps closely, especially Green, who won't practice on Wednesdays for the rest of the season.

At least, Echemandu likes his chances better than being on the practice squad.

"Any time you get to walk out on the field and wear the helmet, it's an awesome opportunity," Echemandu said. "It doesn't matter who your opponent is. This is another opportunity.

"Right now, with Ahman nursing a knee injury, me and (Ron) Dayne are rotating, it's definitely an opportunity to play."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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