With just two games left in the Houston Texans 2013 preseason, things are starting to materialize at each position between who is becoming a safe bet to stick on the final 53-man roster, and who is likely to be unemployed the first week of September.
With this in mind, I’ll be monitoring the progress of numerous positions this week to gauge who is in the lead to win a job and who could be looking at having their’s stolen. Today, we start with the ever popular running back position.
When camp started, there was a lot of talk about who would win the third running back spot behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The names seem to shuffle each week, as it was thought to be a foregone conclusion in practice that Dennis Johnson had the job all but locked up. But after one mediocre game and one really bad performance where he put the ball on the carpet twice, things now are leaning towards Deji Karim.
Karim was thought to be last on the list behind undrafted free agents Cierre Wood, Ray Graham and Johnson, as it was commonly thought he was just a kick-return specialist. But in a preseason where the run game has struggled, Karim has thrust to the front of the pack after a 55-yard night on just nine carries in the second preseason game.
I still think that Wood has the highest ceiling out of all of the guys fighting for this spot, but Karim’s ability to be a big playmaker returning kicks likely puts him over the top at this point. Graham has been lost in the shuffle and I still believe he’ll get his walking papers after the first cuts, so he has an opportunity to pick up somewhere else. He’s a talented runner, he just hasn’t shown enough of anything special to break into the conversation for this job.
As for Johnson, he lost his chance the moment he fumbled the football. One thing we know about Gary Kubiak is that he is a big time believer in ball security being job security. Tate fumbled once in the early parts of the season last year that led to the team almost blowing a big lead in Denver and he was in the dog house for the rest of the season.
As an undrafted guy, there are two things you cannot do: fumble the football and dog it on special teams. Johnson may stick around until the final cuts due to the health situation of Foster, which I’ll touch on in a minute, but his opportunity has almost assuredly been wasted.
All during practice and preseason, we’ve heard that Foster wasn’t playing because the team was just being cautious with him and a back injury. This sounded like coach speak for a reason to keep your superstar wrapped in bubble wrap until the games counted. But this was different. Foster hasn’t even been participating in drills and now it has come to light that he’s getting injections for back pain that has now entered into his legs.
As someone who has serious lower disc problems, I can attest to how it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in or how much heart you have; you aren’t doing anything unless your back says it’s okay. For a running back that was severely overworked last season, you have to wonder if this is the beginning of his body breaking down.
Turning just 27 this Saturday, that would be a worst-case scenario for the team and Foster. But it could also be the reason he misses time and two of the above runners break camp on the final 53. They’ve got the time available to prove they belong.