By Jim McCurdy
These guys have always been a defensive-oriented team.
So when you're studying the X's and O's of the Houston Texans, and five of the eight draft choices were used on defensive players and two tight ends chosen along with a center, you know where the team placed its emphasis.
But following a year in which rookie Steve Slaton rushed for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns, and two of the draft choices were used on run blockers, the offensive scheme clearly seems to be geared toward upgrading the ground game.
Tight ends coach Brian Pariani said teams have to run the ball in the National Football League, justifying the Texans' selection of run-blocking tight end Anthony Hill in the fourth round.
Houston General Manager Rick Smith said the team would continue to make efforts to improve the talent level at the running back position throughout the summer.
Slaton's 1,282 yards led NFL rookies last year, while setting a team single-season rushing record in the process. He ran the ball 268 times for a 4.8 yards per carry average. The Texans' 115.4 yards per game ranked 13th in the NFL last season.
Houston threw the ball for an average of 266.7 yards per game, which ranked fourth in the league.
The Texans added depth at running back with the addition of rookie free agents Jeremiah Johnson (Oregon) and Adrian Foster (Tennessee). Six-year veteran Chris Brown, who signed with the Texans as an unrestricted free agent following five seasons with the Tennessee Titans, and Ryan Moats, Slaton's primary backup last year, give Houston other options on the ground.
"We will continue to look as we keep marching our way toward training camp," Smith said in an interview for HoustonTexans.com, "and if there's a veteran player or another young player that’s out there and is available and looks attractive to us, then certainly we will entertain those options."
All of this is not to suggest the Texans will abandon the pass by any means. Not with a talented quarterback in Matt Schaub, and one of the best receivers in the game in Andre Johnson.
But if you're looking for changes in the playbook, expect coach Gary Kubiak to give the running game different looks.
Slaton told team insiders that he intends to be a better blocker, but he also wants to become more dangerous when the ball is put in his hands.
"You have to make sure you protect the quarterback," Slaton said. "In my case, I didn't block that often in college. It's definitely a skill you need to get on the field."
"I know more of what the coaches want and what the coaches need and what I need to do to get the yards that I left on the field last year and get them back. The first year is the biggest learning year you are going to have. I think I learned a lot from the veterans being on me and the coaches being on me. (Now), I can step my game up more."