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Houston Sports and Stuff is beginning its coverage of the Houston Texans’ 2017 season by breaking down all the position groups in an 8-part series leading up to the start of training camp.
In the second installment, we look at the Running Backs.
The 2017 season is going to be a big one for the running game in Houston. There are concerns about the offensive line which will be discussed later, but with young and unproven quarterbacks under center it will be up to the running backs to keep the offense moving. In 14 games last year Lamar Miller ran for 1,073 yards, proving he was worth the free agent contract he signed to come to Houston. He is clearly going to be the number one back going into the season but the depth chart behind him will be a battle to watch in camp.
There are 5 running backs competing for playing time behind Miller. The depth chart in 2016 had third year player Alfred Blue seeing the bulk of those carries, while Akeem Hunt was third. Having time in the offense helps more than it hurts these two players, but a lack of production has brought new competition to their door. There are currently six running backs on the roster and it’s difficult to think that there would be more than four on the final 53-man roster. And there is still the likelihood that fullback Jay Prosch will be the fourth back. That really leaves only three running backs to make the final roster. Since we know one of them already, it’s really down to two roster spots among five players.
Other than Miller and Prosch, the other player with an easy path to the final roster is third round selection D’Onta Foreman. In the reality of the NFL, teams do not invest that high of a draft pick in a running back and leave him exposed for other teams to sign by cutting him or placing him on the practice squad. That puts him safely on the roster behind Lamar Miller as the number two or three back and only one open spot for Blue, Hunt, second year player Tyler Ervin, and undrafted rookie Dare Ogunbowale. Or at least, that is how it appeared before Sunday. Foreman was arrested for gun possession and marijuana charges, which he has professed his innocence. He may be cleared from the law, but not the NFL’s conduct policy. He could be facing a suspension sometime this season and it would therefore be important to have depth at the position if/when that happens. Whatever decision the Texans make to plan for this, it will be something to keep an eye on.
That lack of available roster spots poses a problem for all the remaining players. Ervin had only one rushing attempt and three receptions in 12 games last year. He will have to show more if he wants to remain on the team. Ogunbowale will be working hard to take Ervin’s roster spot, although it’s tough for an undrafted player to make the roster when there is plenty of depth and limited spots.
Training camp will be much more interesting now and there will be fierce competition for this last spot. Often, special teams might be the determining factor. The ability to play special teams can sometimes make a player valuable beyond just a running back. Getting carries in training camp will be important, but more important will be what is done with those carries and a player’s ability to help the team.
The potential tandem of Miller and Foreman looks promising in the offseason. Having a third back rise with more value than what the Texans have gotten previously would go a long way toward offensive improvement in 2017. I won’t make any bold predictions, but I look forward to watching this position shape itself in the coming weeks and seeing what arises from Foreman’s arrest.
Read the prior installments of Texans roster preview