Comeback Season For Arian Foster?
The consensus around the NFL is that the Houston Texans are going to be fine on one side of the ball.
The other, of course, is the team's lackluster offense that will thrive or falter, largely based on how its former All-Pro running back, Arian Foster, performs.
Going into the 2013 season, an offense revolved around Foster would brew confidence. There'd be little doubt that a three-time Pro Bowler, still in his prime, would find success in instrumenting a potent ground game to set up the air attack.
And why would there be any doubt? In his first three full seasons in Houston, Foster averaged 14 starts per season and 1,421 yards, including a career-high 1,616 in 2010 -- the same season he found the endzone 18 times (16 rushing). In the 2012 campaign, he appeared in all 16 games. The Tennessee alumnus compiled 15 rushing touchdowns and was a solid weapon in the passing game as well, catching 40 balls for 217 yards.
In the words of Larry David, "prettyyyyyyyy... prettyyyyyyyy good."
Different story going into the upcoming season.
There is caution.
Simply put, nobody is sure that Foster will be the player he was before serious injuries riddled his 2013 season.
Foster played in eight games last season, totaling 542 yards on 121 carries, with two total touchdowns. The shortened season and subpar play came as a result of a back injury that placed him on the injured reserve on November 12, 2013 -- days after he appeared in his final game of the season, a Week 7 loss to Kansas City in which he gained 11 yards on four carries.
Just one month prior, Fantex Holdings announced the opening of a "stock exchange" for investors to buy and sell a percentage of the future earnings of professional athletes. Foster volunteered to be the first athlete up for bidding, with the initial offering being a 20% stake ($10.5 million divided into just over a million shares at $10 each) in the former Pro Bowl running back's future earnings. Shares would also be tied to his contracts, endorsements and business endeavors. In turn, Foster would be paid $10 million for the 20 percent.
Back to the football field...
Even before the injury ended his season, however, the sixth-year back was struggling (https://www.football.com/en-us/what-is-wrong-with-arian-foster/).
Through the first three games of last season, Foster had 190 yards, but the Texans didn't lose a step (see what I did there?), despite their superstar's struggles, averaging 128.7 yards/game. Of course, Ben Tate proved to be a great complement to Foster. But Tate is now in Cleveland, and the Texans are hoping that rookie Alfred Blue will play that role this year.
Foster recently told Local 2 Sports in Houston, "I've gotten better this offseason."
At nearly 28-years-old, Foster is presumably still in his prime years and will not be deterred from striving for a comeback season. It definitely helps matters that he has been active during this year's preseason. He nursed his calf, chest, back and thumb injuries, and he missed the entire preseason last year.
At the same time, however, we know running backs in the NFL start sliding in their late 20s more often than they bounce back. Let's take a look at some former running backs and their numbers from age 28-30.
Terrell Davis rushed for over 2,000 yards before succumbing to injuries in his final three seasons and retiring at the age of 29. Marcus Allen played until he was 37, but didn't reach the 1,000-yard mark in any of his final 12 seasons. Similar story for Marshall Faulk, whose final 1,000-yard season came at the age of 29. Thurman Thomas stopped being productive after hitting 30-years-old.
Others, such as Curtis Martin and Emmitt Smith, among others, were the exceptions to the rule and saw success in their latter years.
I know what you're saying. "Different time." Yes, but Foster's 956 carries in his remarkable three-year stretch was the highest in the NFL during that span. The heavy workload, coupled with the aforementioned injuries, spark question marks and rightfully so.
Texans first-year head coach Bill O'Brien hasn't made it a secret that he's going to employ a run-heavy offense and take the pressure off Ryan Fitzpatrick. If his superstar running back does what he's capable of, then O'Brien won't have many worries in his first season at the helm. But if Foster continues to be hampered, then the Texans are in for another long and forgettable season.
One benefit of a potent rushing attack is that it keeps the opposing defense honest, and thus helps the passing game. Ladies and gentlemen, Fitzpatrick needs all the help he can get, especially if his receivers doesn't include Andre Johnson. Not to beat a dead horse, but the Texans are not going to win games airing out the ball and trying to outscore opponents. That's where the running game and a strong defense are most needed.
The Seattle Seahawks used a similar formula. Marshawn Lynch, however, stayed beast mode, and Russell Wilson is on a different level than Houston's starter.
It's all going to ride on Foster's back this season. Ironically, it's a back that has been operated on.
Foster also told Local 2 Sports, "I think last year we found ways to lose. I think it's changing our mindset (for this year). If you believe in something wholeheartedly, it's contagious and everybody starts coming together as a team."
It almost literally can't get worse than 2-14. The defense alone will win six games. Whether or not the Texans get back to the postseason relies heavily on Foster's performance and ability to stay on the field. History tells us he won't go back to the player he once was, but make no mistake that everyone involved with the organization is crossing their fingers, because he's all they got on offense.