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Almost from the moment both teams finished their respective games Sunday, the text messages started firing back-and-forth between first-year Houston Texans fullback Lawrence Vickers and his old Cleveland Browns teammates.
A text from Browns free safety Mike “Pops” Adams stood out most to Vickers.
“I’m going to smash you when I see you,” Adams informed Vickers.
Showing respect for his elders, Vickers replied, “Don’t do me like that.”
Vickers still has found memories of the five seasons he spent in Cleveland, but he also is full of mixed emotions about his unceremonious departure this summer, which makes Sunday’s game at Reliant Stadium a little more emotional and personal than most.
“Yeah, I’ve been ready for a minute,” Vickers said. “Ever since I saw we were playing them, I was like ‘Oh yeah.’ That’s just the nature of it. If you leave a team and however you may have departed from that team, when you get a chance to play them, you want to let them know what they’re missing out on, even if I’m… I’m in a better place.
“I’m happy being here and I still want them to know. That’s just me. That’s the type of football player I am. They need to know. I need to make a statement about it and I’m going to do that.”
Vickers doesn’t seem bitter about the cut ties with the Browns. It’s just the manner in which things ended that leaves a bitter taste.
Vickers contract was up following the 2010 season and after the routine exit interview at the conclusion of the season there nothing. The Browns hired Pat Shurmur and brought in the West Coast offense.
Next thing Vickers knew the writing was pretty clear there would be no negotiating a new deal when the Browns drafted fullback Owen Marecic out of Stanford in April. Never mind that it was behind Vickers powerful blocking that running back Peyton Hillis had his break-out 1,177 rushing yards last that earned him a placement on the Madden NFL 12 cover.
It was also important to note that three Browns running backs had gone over 1,000 yards rushing in four seasons with Vickers leading the way.
Hillis has battled through injury and a sour attitude due to contract negotiations and doesn’t seem like he will come close to last season’s rushing totals. As a group, the Browns are averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.
When asked if he thought the Browns missed him, Vickers grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know. My running backs say they miss me,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody else, my teammates say, ‘Man, it’s different without you being here.’ So, I pretty much think the players miss me.”
But in the minds of the Browns brass Vickers just didn’t fit the West Coast offense despite his versatility when it comes to catching the ball out of the backfield.
“I didn’t get a chance to talk to nobody, management or nothing,” Vickers said. “I didn’t know I was leaving until I signed here. I’ve had no communication with them from our exit meeting. That was funny.”
What’s even funnier is how this whole NFL carousel works. The Texans were in need of a veteran fullback after they weren’t willing to pony up the money to keep highly popular and productive Vonta Leach, who reached a three-year, $11 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens during the summer.
Running back Arian Foster led the league in rushing last season behind Leach’s blocking, but that wasn’t enough for the Texans to spend that kind of money to keep a productive fullback around.
Vickers, who is from Beaumont, came much cheaper, signing a two-year contract $3 million with a $500,000 signing bonus.
For Vickers it wasn’t as much about the money as it was about being back in comforts of home and also feeling wanted again.
“The fact that I got to come here, I’m the first person in Houston to be able to come home and play for the hometown team. That’s big in itself,” Vickers said. “When I signed here, all the guys from Houston called and were like, ‘Man, that’s a chance in a lifetime. You’re supposed to embrace that,’ and I did. I am embracing it.”
It was assumed when the Texans signed Vickers this summer that he would replace Leach, but third-year H-back James Casey won the battle for the spot coming out of training. Casey, however, has been limited in recent weeks with a shoulder injury which has allowed Vickers more playing opportunity.
With an exception of a wide open dropped pass that could have sealed a win over the Oakland Raiders, Vickers has made the most of his opportunity.
“He’s grown a lot. I’ve been really impressed,” said Texans coach Gary Kubiak. “He gets better every time we practice. He got better in each game that he played in and to me, he’s listening.
“You get a player like that, he’s basically like, ‘Hey, feed me coach. I want to get better.’ He’s got a chance to be a dang good fullback in our system, so it’s his opportunity to play a lot more football than he had been playing. To me, he’s taken advantage of it.”
But that doesn’t mean Vickers doesn’t still miss his time in Cleveland. During his time there he developed a connection with the fans and the city that is still strong.
“The people there are just good overall people,” Vickers said. “They work hard there so you kind of get accustomed to that working hard. And they work hard for everything that they have and they don’t have a lot out there. It’s not the biggest city in the world but they enjoy everything that they have and they keep hold of it. They are the realest people ever. I was there for five years and we had not been the best team but they’ve been there because they are loyal people.”