Just over a week ago, the legitimate concern was where would the Texans find the bodies to plug into the backfield?
Fast forward a week later and the Texans have a much different problem.
After seeing last Saturday Arian Foster is back to his old self and that second-year running back Ben Tate has a great deal to of talent the Texans backfield all of a sudden has a crowded feel with Derrick Ward also set to return to action this week from a concussion injruy. How can the Texans possibly have enough balls to keep three quality backs happy?
The question brings a grin to the face of head coach Gary Kubiak.
“It’s a nice problem to have. It’ll work itself out,” Kubiak said. “They’re all different (Derrick) Ward is a bigger banger type of guy and (Ben) Tate’s got the speed.”
And those are the two backups. Foster, the reigning NFL rushing champ, is the unquestioned starter.
It had seemed pretty much a lock Ward would back up Foster coming into the season. That is primarily because Tate was unknown after suffering a season-ending ankle injury on his first carry from scrimmage in the first preseason game as a rookie last season.
But that was before Saturday’s impressive showing in which Tate dazzled the crowd at Reliant Stadium with 95 rushing yards and a one touchdown on nine carries in the second quarter to help spark the Texans to the 27-14 win over the New Orleans Saints in the second preseason game.
Now all eyes will be on Tate to see if he can duplicate his initial success during Saturday’s preseason game at San Francisco.
“It was just the first game,” said Tate. “Like I’ve said, I’ve got to stay humble and keep working.”
That’s the only option in a backfield as crowded as the one the Texans are expected to have this season. Foster likely will be on the field for the majority of the time, leaving only a limited number of carries for Ward and Tate, who are the likely backup candidates once the regular season starts.
Kubiak certainly seems to understand finding a way to work them all into the game plan in the context of the offense will be a challenge. Rhythm is everything to a running back and getting the carries to develop a feel is essential.
“It’s your job as a coach to find a way to get them their touches and keep them into what you’re doing,” said Kubiak, who takes a 2-0 preseason record to San Francisco on Saturday night. “One thing about the running back position, when you have a great one, they need it 25 times to do what they do. We’ve got a pretty darn good one, so that makes it difficult, but I still think there’s a place for each and every one of them.
“There’s still a lot of football and a lot of balls to be carried in the next two weeks, so we’ll see what happens.”
The key in how the time is divided will likely come down to protection in pass blocking situations. Ward was limited to a few snaps in the preseason opener before going down with the concussion injury against the New York Jets. Tate, who had missed a good chunk of camp and the first preseason game due to a hamstring injury, did surprisingly well protecting quarterback Matt Schaub in his first true professional action.
“You got to be able to protect the quarterback and he got his chances and stepped up and knew what he was doing,” Kubiak said. “He was physical at the point so I was very encouraged by his whole game; not just his running, obviously that was good but he did handle himself well in protection too.”
Tate said he just let his natural instincts take over Saturday as he got his first true test of NFL competition.
“I was just excited,” he said. “It had been over a year since I had been out here on the field so I wasn’t really thinking about anything. I was just excited. I just wanted to keep going. I didn’t want to come out of the game.”