Since taking over the Texans this offseason, head coach Bill O’Brien has consistently talked about the importance of versatility in his players.
Arian Foster is a versatile player. He has been one of the most productive running backs in the league in the last five years but also has the ability to catch passes too.
“In the past, we’ve had guys like Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead in this offense that have filled those types of roles,” said O’Brien, who served in various roles in the Patriots’ organization from 2007-11, “and now it looks like definitely Arian will be able to do that and more.”
Faulk was with the Patriots from 1999-2011. During his 13-year career, he averaged 66.5 rushing attempts and 33 receptions per season. In 2008, when O’Brien was the wide receivers coach in New England, Faulk had his best pass-catching season; that year, he caught 58 passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns.
Woodhead spent the better part of three seasons with New England, including 2012, the year after O’Brien left. During his time with the Patriots, he averaged 83.3 rushing attempts and 30.6 receptions per year.
Foster, during his three-year dominant stretch from 2010-2012, averaged 318.7 attempts and 53 receptions per season. He was a Pro Bowler in all three of those seasons.
“He’s got really good hand-eye coordination,” O’Brien said of Foster. “He’s got good hands. He’s an instinctive player so he has a good idea about how to get open. And he enjoys being involved in the passing game, both on the protection basis and then routes. He’s had a good OTA period for us.”
Foster has appeared to be healthy during the veteran minicamp and OTAs and O’Brien has previously said Foster can do everything physically that they’re asking of him. Foster hasn’t talked to media at NRG Park during the veteran camp or OTAs, declining multiple interview requests.
Speaking to the Houston Chronicle at the grand opening of a bowling alley in late May, Foster said O’Brien has told him that they want to use him “out of the backfield” and said that part of the game is one of his strengths.
“What the most important thing to do is to make sure that you look at the player’s skill set and figure out how they fit your system, or our system,” O’Brien said, “and so what we do is when we have a back that is a three-down back as Arian is, a guy that can play on first, second and third down, then you’re finding ways to incorporate him into the passing game and the running game and it really works out well for your offense.”
After Foster, the Texans brought in Andre Brown, whom O’Brien called a first- and second-down running back. The team used a late-round pick on Alfred Blue from LSU. They also have Dennis Johnson and Jonathan Grimes, two players O’Brien said have had good OTAs so far.
One of the toughest things for a young running back to learn in the NFL is how to block. That’s something Blue – as well as the other young running backs – will need to work on throughout training camp and into the preseason games.
O’Brien explained that most college running backs are one of the best players on their respective teams so they’re not asked to block. They have to learn it in the NFL.
“When they come to our league,” O’Brien said, “it’s very, very important that they learn protections and it’s important that we evaluate whether they can protect or not.”