By Lance Zierlein
August 9, 2013
If Arian Foster never plays a single preseason game for the rest of his career, I won't care. Tight back? Don't sweat it, Arian ... just get your rest. Calf sore? No problem, Arian ... just take a few days off. Did you get a bad edge-up? No problem. Sit it this week out and let that sh*t grow back right.
What I'm saying is that I don't find too much value in preseason games for RBs. Sure, I think there is some value in Foster being available for practice when he's healthy, but that is much different from taking reps during a meaningless preseason game.
With Foster out for at least the Vikings game, I'll give you a primer on who will be running the ball for the Houston Texans and what to look for.
This is a big camp and big season for Ben Tate. While I don't think he has great vision and can leave yards out on the field from time to time, there is no denying that his size/speed makes him a valuable commodity in this league if he can stay healthy.
Tate looked pretty good at camp before his groin tightened up and he is expected to get 10-12 snaps against the Vikings. I'm sure the Texans will try and get him three or four carries, but this game doesn't really matter for Tate. For Tate, a healthy, productive season is all that matters.
While the more heralded Arkansas RB Knile Davis (third round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs) ran for just 3.4 ypc and 2 TDs last season, Johnson averaged 5.5 ypc with 8 TDs behind the same offensive line. The first thing that stands out about Johnson is that he's a true RB. Don't let his height fool you; he's not a scat back or a Darren Sproles clone.
Johnson has done a great job of staying on his track on the outside zone plays and flowing with the play. He's not too quick to bounce it outside like some younger backs tend to do and he runs with squared shoulders to the line of scrimmage. So far in camp, Johnson is definitely the best back behind Tate and his ability to turn the corner, cut it back against the grain and catch the ball out of the backfield make him a serious contender to win a job.
He's almost identical in size to Tate, but he's not as tough a runner. Wood has the size and burst to be a factor in this type of running game and I'm certainly not writing him off as I was very high on his talents being able to fit into a zone scheme run game during the draft.
Wood isn't going to break as many tackles as he should for his size, but he's got terrific burst and he can hit backside cutback lanes without having to gear down which is essential to excel in this offense. Johnson has been so steady in camp that Wood needs to hit a big play or two in this game or the next to get Gary Kubiak's attention. The talent is there, but he has to finish his runs.
Karim just hasn't done anything for me out in camp. He's a veteran who has NFL carries and can return kicks, but I just haven't seen enough from Karim in camp to get to excited about his potential on this roster. Wood has great physical ability and Johnson has a higher ceiling in this offense, but those guys might not make the roster because Kubiak wants a veteran at RB3.
If Kubiak does go with a vet at RB3, he may end up looking at someone who has been cut unless Karim kicks it into gear during a couple of these preseason games. Karim is a try-hard runner, but I just don't think he's talented enough compared to the other backs on this depth chart.
I wish that I could write a glowing report on Ray Graham, but alas, I can't. It's not that he has been bad in camp, it is just that he hasn't done anything to really distinguish himself. Graham was a terrific talent before tearing up his knee in college, and it just doesn't look like he's the same guy he once was.
Graham has shown a couple of flashes here and there with quick cuts and catches out of the backfield, but I just think Johnson might be too far out ahead of Graham in terms of the battle of undrafted free agent RBs. I'm not sure if Graham is going to get carries in this game or not, but when he does, he had better show out on the spot because the reps are going to tighten up quickly as preseason moves along.