Indianapolis may not be the only team missing one of its offensive stars when the Colts and Texans meet during Sunday’s season opener at Reliant Stadium.
The Colts confirmed Wednesday that perennial All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning will not be available for Sunday’s AFC South clash due to ongoing complications from his neck surgery. But the Texans could also be without the NFL’s rushing leader Arian Foster, who is still nursing a lingering hamstring injury.
Foster originally injured the hamstring on the first day of training camp and then return for one full preseason game and then tweaked the hamstring in the first quarter of his second preseason action against the San Francisco 49ers.
Foster worked out Wednesday but did not practice with the team, but Texans coach Gary Kubiak is hopeful he will be ready to go after two weeks of rest and rehabbing the hamstring.
“He went a little harder in his rehab process over there working out,” Kubiak said following practice. “It will be day-to-day and we will see where we are at. It looked like he did a little bit more.”
But Foster’s availability seems to be questionable at best at this point. No one would speculate on what are the chances he will be able to play Sunday.
The Texans, however, seem confident that if Foster isn’t ready to go that they have a stable of running backs ready to step in and take his place. Second-year running back Ben Tate has created a lot of excitement after a strong training camp and preseason following a lost year due to injury his rookie season.
Derrick Ward has also been impressive while Steve Slaton is recovered from his injury and provides the comfort of a proven back to line up in the backfield.
Kubiak said while the team is hopeful Foster can go, they are preparing to play without him this week.
“You always prepare as if possibly you could not have a guy, that’s just the way you prepare,” Kubiak said. “The reps are going Derrick’s way, Tate’s way and Steve’s way right now so we have to get those guys ready to play. We will see where we are tomorrow and we’ll see how he does.”
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison agreed.
“We are fine shape. We had a lot of backs take some reps through preseason,” he said. “If Arian can play, he’ll play. If he can’t somebody else will play. Everybody has worked hard.”
Ward says all three running backs are preparing as though Foster won’t be available and he believes they won’t miss a beat even without the star back. The Texans haven’t said which of the three backs would start if Foster can’t go, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
“We are preparing like we are going to be the starter,” Ward said. “We’re practicing like we are going to be the starters, all three of us. So whoever is back there is going to help this team win.”
That certainly seems consistent with quarterback Matt Schaub’s belief. He has had the chance to watch all of the backs work this preseason and believes any one of them is capable of stepping in for Foster.
“They’ve all played really well for us,” Schaub said. “Ben Tate has had a great camp and he’s coming along good. Steve, we all know what he can do, he’s come in and played really well for us. So we have a lot of confidence in all those guys and whoever is back there.”
But Kubiak made certain to point out that if Foster is healthy enough to play that he will on the field Sunday. There is no thought to taking extra caution and resting Foster in such a pivotal early season game.
The Texans, who are on quest to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, have looked more and more like the AFC South favorites this preseason. And with the uncertainty surrounding Manning’s heath, the Texans could be poised to unseat with the Colts with a strong start.
“If Arian if full speed and can play we want him to play because we need to be at our best in order to win a football game. At the same time we’ve got to listen to what’s going on . The progress has been very good, the progress was good today. Maybe this conversation is different tomorrow. I don’t know.”