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Texans' entire backfield ready


Texans running backs coach Chick Harris penciled in Ahman Green as his starting running back for Sunday's regular season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That could be a good omen for Green. The pencil lead didn't break.

For all his past glory, breaking down has kept the four-time Pro Bowler from continuing his outstanding pro career since coming to the Texans prior to last season. He played in only six games last season and will enter Sunday's game with just one carry in the preseason.

"You have to make changes in this business," Harris said. "There are challenges every day, having one guy hurt, one guy out, two guys out and then I've got only two or three. I've grown over the years to expect that and if I get anything better than that, it's a bonus."

{QUOTE}That's not the sturdiest foundation for the solid running attack that the Texans crave. Rookie Steve Slaton has earned a spot in the running back rotation and Harris is working hard with Chris Taylor to back up both running back and fullback.

The Texans had a running back talent search throughout training camp as injuries seemed to follow the runners. Harris keeps juggling his rotation. It might not always be who is best but who is standing.

"I don't know who I'm going to have until Sunday," Harris said. "Every day I think about it and make sure everyone is prepared. I also have to think about how to get someone else prepared if they aren't already in the plan."

No one is more anxious to be in the plan than Green.

"I'm ready for the real stuff,'' Green said. "The games count now. We'll go out there and just basically get it going."

Is he ready for a 25-carry game?

"I hope not," he said. "Twenty-five carries, first game, whoo! That's a little tough. I mean, eventually, I'll get there. From a standpoint of football and endurance and stuff like that, I'm there. I'm definitely ready to start the game and play the game against Pittsburgh , because it's going to be a physical game."

Green thinks his fellow running backs can get the job done against one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. Vonta Leach will start at fullback with Taylor backing up both positions and Slaton getting his first NFL experience.

"Myself, Chris Taylor, Vonta and Steve Slaton, we're all going to be backing each other up," Green said. "I'm not worried about not having enough energy, because them guys, when they go out there on the field, I'll be resting up and cheering them on and vice versa.

"It's going to be a good effort. It's going to have to be a whole team out there, and that's it."

Taylor might have the toughest job getting ready for the season. He spent extra time on the blocking sled with Harris shouting instructions after Wednesday's practice. He also has special teams duties to worry about.

"I'm getting better," Taylor said. "It's easier now to go to a game plan because I have something to focus on for that week. I need to improve on pass protection and make better reads. I think pass protection is most important. If you don't get pass protection down, you don't get on the field."

Slaton performed well in the preseason. Now he's ready for a taste of a real game.

"I'm a change-of-pace guy," Slaton said. "Their defense is good. They rally to the ball and you have to be smart on your reads and whatever they give you, you've got to take."

Still, the entire organization would like to see Green take a major step forward against the Steelers.

"Our team gets an extra step in the run, so to speak, whenever he's out there because they know what he can do," coach Gary Kubiak said. "He brings big-play ability and the fact that he's moving around the way he's moving around is exciting for us.

"You just keep your fingers crossed that we go down there and come out of this game with him playing well and feeling good and we keep moving forward."

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is more wary of what veteran assistant head coach Alex Gibbs brings to the Texans' running game.

"A lot has been written and said about Gibbs and what he brings to the table regardless of who is the ball carrier," Tomlin said via conference call this week. "You know that they have the opportunity to run the ball effectively if you're not where you're supposed to be.

"All those guys are capable, professional runners. We've got to be prepared to stop them."

The midweek report on Green looks good. Still, Kubiak doesn't intend to press his luck with Green. It will be running back-by-committee against the Steelers.

"I plan on playing them all, to be honest with you," Kubiak said. "I could say right down the middle, but it usually doesn't end up that way. I plan on all of them playing. We'll be smart. He's not going to be ready to go in there and carry the ball an abundant amount of times, but he's ready to play."

Quarterback Matt Schaub hopes so, too.

"It's important for him to be out there," Schaub said of Green. "A guy like that who's played at a very high level for a long time in this league, he knows how to handle a 3-4 defense and he's a great protector in the blitz game."

Harris hopes the committee holds up.

"I just wait to see it happen," Harris said. "People ask, 'Are they ready?' But I just wait for it to unfold. I don't try to look in my crystal ball. Whoever at the end of the game has done a good job, fine. If not, I've got to get the other guy to be fine.

"They'll line up on Sunday. They get their test. At the end of that, we'll see where we got better. We'll know by the score, by the production."

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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