Houston Texans Training Camp: Which FB Has Lead on Replacing Departed Leach?
The Texans recently allowed All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach to move on elsewhere as a free agent. Leach wanted to be paid like the best fullback in the league, and I can't blame him.
The Texans were confident they could find a serviceable fullback without having to pay Leach serious money. Leach eventually signed a three-year, $11 million deal with the Ravens.
A fullback leaving the team is generally greeted with a collective shrug, but in Leach's case, it shouldn't be.
Leach was a leader on the Texans offense for five seasons, and he had a big hand in Arian Foster's breakout year in 2010. Foster's numbers from last season will be tough enough to replicate as it is. Taking Leach out of the equation will make it even tougher.
If the Texans feel like they can find a replacement for Leach, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Say what you will about the team under Kubiak and Rick Smith, but they've always found a way to find and grow offensive talent.
Let's break down the candidates to replace Leach on the roster and predict who will be the starter when it's all said and done.
After two seasons of filling in here and there, it looks like James Casey will finally get his time to shine. He has been taking the starting reps at fullback in practice, and when any Texans coach was asked about Leach's departure, they were quick to mention how much confidence they had in Casey.
In college at nearby Rice University, Casey played just about everywhere for the Owls. Most notably, he was a linebacker, a tight end and a quarterback in "Wildcat"-type packages. It was there that he was given the nickname "Thor" for his statuesque physique and his strong running style.
Given what we know about Casey, I have little doubt that he'll have success. He is a physical specimen, and by all accounts, he is among the hardest workers on the team. If Casey has half the success in the regular season as he has in practice everyday. The position will be in good hands.
Saturday morning at Texans camp, Casey shined in drills at the start of practice. He breezed through the step drills as well as most of the running backs and he ran through the drill simulating a pancake block, as if he had been a fullback all his life.
Casey was the assumed heir apparent to Leach even before Leach's departure had been finalized. Since he has taken over the position, he has done little to make anyone think he won't excel.
Vickers will more than likely fill the role of the experienced backup. He was recently signed by the Texans as an insurance policy if Casey falters.
It might seem like a simple job, but playing fullback is tougher than it would seem and if Casey struggles to grasp some of the more nuanced parts of the job, Vickers will be there to take his place.
Vickers also provides a physical contrast to Casey. Whereas Casey is a long, lean natural athlete, Vickers has more of a bowling ball build like you are used to seeing in fullbacks.
He's a low-risk signing for the team. Vickers is an established player at the position, and he has only missed four games in his entire career. You know what you are going to get from him.
This rookie out of Colorado State is little more than a roster filler now, but he might be a long-term project that they hope makes more expensive options expendable down the road.
At 6'1" and 246 pounds, Pauga is a fullback more in the Vickers/Leach mold. He has a strong, compact body built for throwing blocks in the run game.
He didn't get many rushing attempts in his four seasons at CSU, but he did emerge as a fairly reliable receiving threat. As a senior, he caught 33 passes for 308 yards. As a junior in 2009, he caught 25 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns.
While Pauga's place on the roster likely won't be decided on his acumen as an offensive threat, it's nice to know that he has a history of success in that regard.
Justin "Bubba" Bartlett
Like Pauga, Bubba Bartlett is little more than a roster filler in training camp to give the team enough warm bodies to hold scrimmages.
The undrafted rookie out of Carroll College in Montana played tight end last year as a member of the NAIA national champions. He caught 67 passes for 696 yards and six touchdowns.
Not only is Bartlett a relative unknown, he will be trying to learn a whole new position.
Given his success as a receiving threat in college, Bartlett seems to be a decent enough athlete, but I would be surprised if he survives the first cut in camp.
It's just a numbers game. The Texans will probably only carry two, maybe three fullbacks. Bartlett will have to convince the Texans they should keep him and not Pauga.