Texans training camp preview: Running backs
As the Texans gear up for training camp there are still concerns about the group of running backs they have assembled. The group is mostly the same; led by Lamar Miller with back-ups Alfred Blue who was re-signed in the offseason and D’onta Foreman who will probably be on the Physically Unable to Perform List to begin the season. That leaves room for holdovers Tyler Ervin and Troymaine Pope as well as rookies Lavon Coleman or Terry Swanson to step up and earn some snaps. Competition will be fierce and there should be plenty to go around.
As a team the Texans finished the season just inside the top half of the league in rushing yards and just outside the top ten in attempts. But they were firmly near the bottom of the league with only eight rushing touchdowns for the season. An improved interior offensive line and a healthy Deshaun Watson will contribute to an improved running game but it might not be enough to make the run game a scary aspect of the offense.
Lamar Miller will still be the starter but a disappointing 888 yards with a 3.7 yards per carry average demonstrated a real need for improvement. That’s why D’Onta Foreman was a third-round draft choice last year and by Week 11 was ready to break out. His season ended that same week and it was up to Miller and Blue to finish it out.
Speaking of Blue, it was a little bit of a head scratcher when he was re-signed this offseason. In his four seasons he has demonstrated that he can be nothing more than a third or fourth option in the backfield. Maybe it was the injury to Foreman that caused the Texans to sign a familiar face but his one-year contract is cheap to get out of if he doesn’t out-perform those behind him on the depth chart.
Tyler Ervin played in only four games last year, almost exclusively on special teams before a torn patellar tendon ended his season. At the time he was averaging 18.6 yards per kick return and 7.5 yards per punt return. He will have a tough road ahead but he should be ready for the start of camp. If he can show the injury hasn’t slowed him down he might still make the roster as a kick returner, leaving the door open for one of the two rookies to fight for playing time.
Houston brought in undrafted free agents Lavon Coleman and Terry Swanson to round out the group this offseason. These might both be long shot guys when it comes to offensive carries, but special teams can always use players with their size and speed.
Coleman is a big guy with some ability to get outside and enough elusiveness to make a move. He will need to adjust to the size and power of NFL defenses but a good camp could get him in the role that Foreman was meant to play behind Miller.
Swanson is more a match for what Miller brings. He is a speedy guy with great vision who was a priority signing for Houston as soon as the draft ended. He shared his college backfield with last year’s breakout rookie Kareem Hunt and the Texans hope they can get something similar. It’s not out of the question for a good camp to jump him ahead of a player like Alfred Blue or Tyler Ervin.
What we know so far is that there is at least one more year of Lamar Miller leading this group. He is still in position to get a lion’s share of the work because the depth behind him is either unable or unknown. That’s not a good position to be in if you’re the Texans. There are still a few free agents who can help available to sign, the most notable being Adrian Peterson. I’m not sure I can even posture a guess at what they might do. There’s upside with the two rookies and a sense of patience with the recovery of D’Onta Foreman so all they need is to stay near the middle of the league and hope that the improved offensive line and return of Deshaun Watson make up the difference.