For the first time in Houston Texans history, one position appears to be too deep with talent- the backfield.
Entering their seventh offseason, the Houston Texans appear to be in the midst of solving a long overdue problem- generating a solid ground game. One could possibly argue that 2004’s tandem of Domanick Williams (Davis) and Jonathan Wells did just about as much as any GM could ask for (1450+ yards combined) from a backfield, but then again, that was 2004. The expectations have now been raised- drastically. Instead of planning for a decent run attack focusing on a single, every-down back (as the team has done in the past), the Texans have made the ground game the entire focus of the offensive scheme being conducted by Alex Gibbs and Kyle Shanahan. Here though, the Texans face an emerging question, who is that every-down back? Head coach Gary Kubiak has made it clear that the backfield will be interchangeable, possibly carrying up to four running backs, as well as two full backs, thus creating a rare, six deep backfield.
Surprisingly, the Texans only have three “shoe-ins” for those five or six spots. Offseason signee Chris Brown gives the Texans a strong, powerful running back who was needed to replace last seasons brute, Ron Dayne. Brown is likely to compete with Ahman Green, the injury-prone four time Pro Bowler, for the starting spot. Green is coming off a lackluster season after missing eleven games due to recurring pain in his left knee, but if healthy, Ahman is very capable of being a threat to opposing defenses. Clearing the way for those two will, again, be Vonta Leach. With another exceptional performance last season, the 250 pound ECU product has proven to be one of the best full backs in the AFC by dazzling spectators with huge hits and reliable hands.
This is where the fun begins. Since it’s virtually set in stone that the Texans will have the services of those three players next season, what happens to the others? Well, first of all, if the team decides to carry only three running backs this season, I think it’s fair to say that Darius Walker will be shaking in his cleats. Though Walker had an impressive debut season last year, finishing with 345 total yards (despite only playing in four games), his competition this year is hungry to make an impact on the depth chart. Fighting for the third running back spot along with Walker, is fan favorite- Chris Taylor. After rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Browns in the 2006 finale, fans demanded to know more about this guy. The excitement over Taylor quickly diminished, as he went down during the off-season last year with a knee injury that sidelined him throughout the entire 2007 season. Finally healthy again, Taylor looks to pick up right where he left off two years ago. To round out the pack of potential third string backs, we find this years third round draft choice- Steve Slaton. The Second Team All Big-East pick out of West Virgina has probably the best shot of all to grab that third spot, primarily because of his astounding potential as the ideal zone blocking back. Slaton runs down hill and possesses the ability to break to the outside and scorch down the sideline for six. Figuring that Jameel Cook will squeeze by Jon Abbate as the second full back, the Texans would have a dangerous five-deep backfield consisting of: Chris Brown, Ahman Green, Steve Slaton, Vonta Leach, and Jameel Cook. If four running backs are carried, you could assume that, due to his proven durability and his undeniable effort, Darius Walker would make the roster.
Plain and simple, the Texans are finally through a ground game drought, and only good things can be expected from the plethora of talent in the backfield. If the offseason continues to give us glimpses of talent and training camp goes without flaw, you could possibly see a new era of the running back’s role in the Texan style of football.