James Casey is coming off his best season at the full-back/tight end hybrid role for the Houston Texans, catching 18 passes for 260 yards and a touchdown, and rushing once for 11 yards – and he missed two games to a chest injury. Casey had a career-high five catches for 126 yards, a team record for a running back, against the New Orleans Saints in week three.
Owen Daniels led the team with 54 receptions for 677 yards.
Joel Dreessen (now with the Denver Broncos) posted 28 catches for 353 yards and six scores, the team-high for receiving touchdowns.
Despite the production from Casey and Daniels, the Texans are thin at the tight end and fullback positions. The departure of Dreessen, also a special teams standout, should increase Garrett Graham’s playing time from the seven games he played in sparingly last year.
Full back Lawrence Vickers, who signed a two-year contract with Houston last August, was released by the team in March. In six seasons (five for the Cleveland Browns), Vickers has 34 attempts for 87 yards and helped both Arian Foster (fifth, 1,224) and Ben Tate (19th, 942) finish in the top 20 in yardage among all NFL running backs in 2011. Vickers is now with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Texans did not draft a player from either position but in May signed three undrafted rookies to fill the void: tight ends Phillip Supernaw (Ouachita Baptist) and Logan Brock (TCU), and fullback Jason Ford (Illinois).
Ford played tailback for the Illinois Fighting Illini and was successor to Mikel Leshoure (Detroit Lions). In Leshoure’s record-breaking game (330 yards) against the Northwestern Wildcats in 2010, Ford rushed for 86 yards and three touchdowns. At 5’10 238 Lbs, Ford has great size and one of his positives entering the draft was his blocking ability and the fact that he was a consistent North/South runner. Ford should have a bright future in the NFL, especially if he improves his catching ability.
But he is young and has shown some immaturity in 2011 – first in April when he was arrested for driving with a suspended license and then again when he was found to be academically ineligible to play in the December 31 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against the UCLA Bruins.
Ford isn’t the only young and inexperienced fullback on the Texans’ roster. Derrell Smith who was a linebacker on Houston’s practice squad last year was converted to fullback last month. Smith, a second-year player out of Syracuse certainly has the intelligence to transition to fullback seamlessly. An All-Academic Big East player from 2007-10, Smith has earned a dual degree in information management and technology and marketing and is close to finishing a master’s degree in advertising. Smith (6’2” 232 Lbs.) began his career at running back, rushing for 1,225 yards and 18 TDs his senior year of high school and was named Gatorade Player of the Year in Delaware.
The lack of experience and youth behind Casey could have played a part in Gary Kubiak’s decision to sign veteran Moran Norris after the three-day mini-camp tryout he was invited to last week. Norris, a Houston native and 12th-year veteran, played for the Texans from 2002-05.
The Houston Texans are poised once again to have one of the league’s elite rushing attacks and will rely heavily on the tight ends and fullbacks to pave the way for a repeat performance. Here’s hoping they catch on quick.
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