Chris Ogbonnaya looked around in the first quarter of Monday night's preseason opener against the New York Jets and noticed that he was the only healthy Texans running back.
He didn't blink. While the rest of the bruised running backs watched, Ogbonnaya made the most of his big opportunity.
"You just play hard because you never know what's going to happen," Ogbonnaya said. "Hopefully, we get D. Ward (Derrick Ward), and Arian (Foster) and Steve (Slaton) back and soon and we get back to work."
Ogbonnaya was signed to the Texans practice squad last September and faced long odds at the start of training camp. He was well behind Foster, the NFL's leading rusher last season, and veterans Ward and Slaton.
Even 2010 second-round pick Ben Tate, who missed all of last season with a broken leg, had an edge over the former University of Texas runner.
Foster, Slaton and Tate were sidelined by injuries before the game started. Ward left with a head injury in the first quarter, leaving Ogbonnaya to carry the running back load.
"He's a warrior," quarterback Matt Schaub said. "There weren't many guys to go in and play his position. He really strapped it on and played hard all night. He made some plays for us in the passing game as well as the running game."
Schaub also appreciated Ogbonnaya's blocking.
"He picked up a few blitzes after several big runs and to pick up a guy coming off the edge screaming, he did a great job stepping up for us quarterbacks," Schaub said. "He played really big tonight."
Ogbonnaya ran big from the start. He finished with 37 yards on 17 carries and a one-yard touchdown run. He caught seven passes for 67 yards and had a touchdown catch.
It was quite a performance for a guy who started out at the bottom of the depth chart. He hadn't played as much since his rookie year with the Rams.
"Arizona my rookie year when I was playing for the Rams," he said. "It's a great opportunity here. Some guys go down and some guys have to step up and that's my job right now. Hopefully, I can do enough to make this team.
"You've got to play tough. This offense is a downhill, wide-zone scheme. I try my best to do that and get north and get up field when I have the opportunity."
Ogbonnaya didn't have time to get tired as his long even progressed.
"I'd say I got stronger," Ogbonnaya said. "It's a grind. It's like training camp and I go to practice every day with that mindset that I have to do something to make this team and to make this team better. I hadn't been in the end zone since I've been in the NFL."
Ogbonnaya gained 50 yards on 11 carries with the Rams in 2009. He signed with the Texans last September and had been stuck on the practice squad.
Ogbonnaya's receiving was a big factor.
"I've always taken pride in that," Ogbonnaya said. "That was one of my big jobs at Texas, being a third-down back and just as a receiver coming out of high school, it is important to me. I anticipated Derrick not playing as much. You've got to go and keep plugging."
Ogbonnaya rushed 597 yards on 140 carries and eight touchdowns at Texas. He added 75 passes for 792 yards for three touchdowns.
Quarterback Matt Leinart also got a big chance to play for the first time in a year. He appreciated having Ogbonnaya's help.
"Chris had a big game tonight," Leinart said. "He took the load out there and showed us what he's made of. We all knew he was a great back, and he's getting a chance to show what he can do.
"It's tough, you got to go more one-back stuff. It makes it harder to call plays in certain personnel groups, but we got through it and T.J. (Yates) had a great drive at the end to win the game. Everybody stepped up."
Yates, the rookie quarterback from North Carolina, completed a 27-yard pass to Lestar Jean and then handed off to Ogbonnaya for the one-yard winning touchdown with 1:53 to play.
"We knew going into the game we were short on running backs, and when D. Ward got hurt, Chris stepped up," Yates said. "He's been doing that all camp for us. He gets a chance and he steps in there and did a great job."
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.