Going into training camp, there was a wealth of discussion about Arian Foster. Not only had he just inked a monumental $43.5 million contract with the Texans, but there was red herring-type chatter regarding his new vegan lifestyle. Discussions about Foster are not uncommon. In fact, when thinking of the Texans, the names that come up the most have been Foster, QB Matt Schaub, and WR Andre Johnson…in no particular order.
Foster has made his way onto the NFL Network’s Top 100 at number 15 and even graces this month’s issue of ESPN Magazine. Considering that one tweet from him about his decision to go vegan went viral and peppered the news reel in Houston for weeks is particularly telling about what he means to the Texans and to the city. To call him Houston’s star is putting it lightly.
Foster took the field at training camp to yells and screams from fans who showed up in droves wearing his jersey, hoping to simply catch a glance at him. But interestingly enough, the talk after each camp practice was not only about Foster, but about the dynamic duo that just won’t quit: Arian Foster and RB Ben Tate.
Tate is not the player whose name has historically been spoken on a daily basis among sports pundits, but that has changed in the course of one week.
Tate came to the Texans in 2010 in the second round of the draft from Auburn. However, Tate sustained a broken ankle in that same year and was placed on injured reserve. His missed the entire 2010 season to only come back in 2011 with a vengeance. In his NFL debut in 2011, Tate rushed for 116 yards on 24 attempts and scored once which set a franchise record for most yards rushed in a debut performance. Tate also got an opportunity to start on September 25, 2011 at New Orleans after Foster injured himself . Overall, Tate rushed for 925 yards in 2011 and raised more than a few eyebrows.
Prior to the 2010 trade deadline, there was significant discussion about Tate possibly being traded to Cleveland. Luckily that didn’t happen and so Tate showed up, as he did last year, quietly but with a fire in his gut.
Foster has had an impressive training camp outing, but when it is Tate’s turn, he answers in kind by providing an equally explosive performance from the snap. It is clear that something special is going on with the backfield in Houston. That “something” is not lost on head coach Gary Kubiak who after Saturday’s practice noted the level of intensity he was seeing from the tailbacks. “I think it’s the best group I’ve ever been around as a coach because of how they’re playing, not because of their names. It’ll be interesting to see. I think Arian (Foster) and Ben (Tate) have had an excellent camp. They’re pushing each other to a level that they don’t even understand what they’re doing to each other, but it’s going to be great for both of them and their career and great for our team.”
Even Tate has acknowledged the duel going on during training camp. “We’re both competitors, so you’re going to go out here and work every day to get better because every day you’ve got to get better,” Tate said.
So while there may not be a question about who will start during the regular season (Foster is a given), Houston’s depth at tailback is nothing short of promising. In June, the Texans inked a contract with Seahawks’ free agent Justin Forsett. Notably, RB Justin Forsett had an excellent first week at camp catching the attention of the coaching staff. Regarding Forsett’s showing, Kubiak said “I’m impressed. Boy, he’s very smart and he plays with some power even though he’s a small kid.” Perhaps the Foster/Tate duel has rubbed off on Forsett as well.
Given the friendly competition that exists between Foster and Tate, and given Tate’s determination and resolve to earn his rightful spot as a playmaker in each game the Texans play, it should be a great year for the rush in Houston. This takes some pressure off of Schaub and Johnson, especially with the questions about Johnson’s health and the lack of depth at receiver. Expect Kubiak to play Tate frequently during the preseason and the regular season. With the 1 – 2 punch of Foster and Tate, this could be a record year for the Texans.