The Texans rushing attack in 2007 proved to be far from grounded. The running backs went through a series of highs and lows, including a season-ending injury to starter Ahman Green and the emergence of undrafted rookie Darius Walker.
The team finished with 1,586 yards rushing and averaged 99.1 yards a game. Former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne led the team with a career-high 773 rushing yards and with six touchdowns on 194 carries.
Green, who missed 10 games with a knee injury, carried the ball only 70 times and recorded 260 yards.
Walker moved up from the practice squad in late November to provide depth at the position and chipped in 58 carries for 264 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
Finishing 22nd in the NFL in rushing disappointed head coach Gary Kubiak, but he is confident the team will find consistency on the ground in 2008.
Green goes down
In early March, the Texans signed Green, a four-time Pro Bowler with the Green Bay Packers, to ignite the team's running attack.
Green looked like he would do just that at the start of the season.
In the home opener against Kansas City, the 10-year veteran racked up 96 yards on offense, running for a game-high 73 yards on 16 carries and catching four passes for 23 yards in the Texans' 20-3 win.
Green followed that performance with his best outing of the year in Week 2 against Carolina. He ran 15 times for a game-high 71 yards and a 13-yard touchdown, his first as a Texan.
Green's momentum came to a sudden halt the following Sunday against Indianapolis when he injured his knee in the first half and did not return to the game.
After the loss to Indy, Green took limited snaps in three games. In Week 9 at Oakland, he flashed the skill-set that had made him a coveted free agent signing by racking up 81 total yards, including a 53-yard reception and his second rushing touchdown. But his lingering knee injury forced him out of the game before the end of the first half.
It would be the last outing of the season for Green, who was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 7.
The Texans were forced to look to their bench and practice squad.
Riding the Dayne train
At the beginning of the season, Dayne had been slated to be a short-yardage back, a bruiser who could complement Green. The 11th overall draft pick by the New York Giants in 2000, Dayne had turned in a productive season for the Texans in 2006, leading the team with 612 yards.
After Green went down, the Texans went with Dayne as a starter.
It took a little while for the Dayne train to get rolling, but by midseason the back was moving at full steam.
Against Oakland, Dayne rushed for a season-high 122 yards on 21 carries, with a season-long run of 39 yards and a 14-yard touchdown.
In Week 11 against New Orleans, the eight-year veteran notched 21 carries for 89 yards and three receptions for 26 yards in the Texans' 23-10 win.
The 5-10, 245-pound rusher battled through a sore ankle to post two of his most impressive performances down the stretch.
On national television against the Denver Broncos, Dayne's injury forced him to sit out the first half. In the second half, he sparked the Texans' offense with 11 carries for 67 yards, a 6.1-yard average, along with a touchdown as the Texans rolled to 31-13 victory.
Against Jacksonville, Dayne closed out the season with 21 carries for 88 yards and two touchdowns. In helping the Texans reach a franchise-best 8-8 record, Dayne also wound up as the Texans' leading rusher for the second consecutive season.
A surprise contributor helped him along the way.
Walker shines at season's end
Walker's season was a microcosm of the highs and lows of the Texans' running game.
He was undrafted after leaving Notre Dame a year early, but signed as a free agent to the Texans' practice squad in May.
The 5-11, 205-pound back was cut in training camp on July 23, but re-signed to the Texans' practice squad a week later.
He was released yet again on Sept. 1, eight days prior to start of the regular season, but re-signed two days later.
With a renewed vigor, Walker impressed the coaches with his play on the practice squad while doubling as the host of a popular segment on TexansTV. Then, in Green's absence, Walker was promoted to the active roster on Nov. 21.
As Dayne struggled with his ankle injury, Walker helped carry the load for the final four games of the season.
The rookie made huge contributions to the Texans' victory over Tampa Bay in his NFL debut, leading the team with 16 carries for 46 yards and finishing second on the team with six receptions for 35 yards.
In his first professional start against Denver, Walker picked up 66 yards on 13 carries, followed by his second start at Indianapolis in which he rolled up 110 yards of offense.
Walker averaged 8.6 yards per carry in the season finale against Jacksonville, notching 86 yards on just 10 carries. His 41-yard scamper in the fourth quarter was the Texans' longest run of the season. He also added a one-yard touchdown run, his first.
An exclusive rights free agent after the season, Walker gave the Texans' brass plenty to think about as they ponder the team's future at the running back position.
Green to returnGeneral manager Rick Smith said he is counting on Ahman Green to be healthy when offseason workouts begin in early April. Green's knee injury does not require surgery and he has begun an intense conditioning program.
Dayne is currently an unrestricted free agent and said he would like to finish his career in Houston. Smith liked what he saw from Walker at the season's end, but the general manager acknowledges that the Texans need more depth at the position.
"Certainly one of the areas that I think proved this year that you need - you need running backs and you need a stable of running backs," Smith said. "Some people might argue that you need more than two legitimate running backs. You might need three.
"Ronnie Dayne is a free agent. We are going to have to look at whether we are going to bring him back. Certainly, Ahman Green's injury-plagued season was a disappointment for us, but we are hopeful that his offseason will be a good one and a productive one so that he can come back and be a positive contributor to our team next year. So that's an area where you know you've got to add a player or two.
"I was certainly pleased with the way Darius Walker responded toward the end of the season and was pleased with his development."