Some think there's no need to use high draft choices on running backs for two reasons: One, good ones can be found in later rounds. Two, with so many quarterbacks throwing for so many yards, the running game is being devalued.
The Texans have a different philosophy. Coach Gary Kubiak is old-fashioned. He believes in having a strong running game that controls the clock. With Arian Foster rushing for 1,224 yards and Ben Tate 942, the Texans finished second in rushing (153 yards a game) last season. They also ranked first in average time of possession.
Having a dominant running game allowed the Texans to overcome the loss of quarterback Matt Schaub and win a playoff game with third-stringer T.J. Yates in the lineup. The running game took pressure off the rookie quarterback.
"Having a good running game means so much to an offense," Kubiak said. "When you keep the ball, the other team's offense stays on the bench. Your defense stays fresh."
The Texans signed Foster to a long-term contract. When rumors surfaced that they were talking to Cleveland about a trade for Tate, they denied it, pointing out how valuable Tate was in his second year when Foster was suffering from a hamstring injury early in the season.
The Texans use a fullback about 30 percent of the time. Vonta Leach went to the Pro Bowl as a lead blocker for Foster. Then he signed with Baltimore.
Tight end James Casey moved to fullback and became the starter last season. When he was injured, Lawrence Vickers replaced him and blocked so well that Casey couldn't get back his job when he was healthy.
Vickers was released for salary cap purposes and signed with Dallas. Now Casey is back at fullback.
"We believe in balance," general manager Rick Smith said. "Running the ball is vital to what we do on offense. Running well is a tried-and-true formula. Fullback might be a vanishing breed but not with us. If you're going to play two backs like we do, you've got to have a fullback that can block."
The Texans make sure their receivers block, too. A receiver won't play unless he gives 100 percent in the running game.
The draft, and, to a certain extent, free agency between the draft and the start of camp, will be paramount to what the Texans do on offense.
They lost right guard Mike Brisiel in free agency. They waived right tackle Eric Winston for cap purposes. They waived Vickers. They lost backup tight end Joel Dreessen, the best blocker at his position, in free agency. That's four key players on offense, all of whom played key roles in the success of the running game.
Expect them to draft or sign a fullback. They're expected to draft a guard, tackle and tight end. They need to replenish the depth that's moved up a level and into the lineup.
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