Fostering hope

If former Tennessee tailback Arian Foster is looking to start as an NFL rookie, he probably picked the wrong team. If he's merely looking to get his foot in the door, however, he may have picked the perfect team.

Shortly after being overlooked in last weekend's NFL Draft, Foster signed a free-agent deal with the Houston Texans. That seemed like a questionable move initially, since the Texans' Steve Slaton led all NFL rookies with 1,282 rushing yards last season.

While Foster has virtually no shot to unseat Slaton and be Houston's No. 1 running back in 2009, the ex-Vol has a surprisingly decent shot to be the No. 2 running back. That's because the Texans' other rushers have major durability issues.

Six-year pro Chris Brown started 29 games during his five-year stint with the Tennessee Titans and is a virtual lock to be Houston's No. 2 back if he's healthy. That's a big if, however. After signing with the Texans as a free agent, Brown missed all of last season due to back problems. Moreover, he has played in just 17 games over the past three seasons.

Houston's other returning running back is three-year pro Ryan Moats. He missed all of 2007 with a broken ankle and carried just three times for 17 yards in '08. Additionally, the Texans would prefer a big back to complement the 5-9, 201-pound Slaton, and Moats (5-8, 210) does not fit the bill. Arian Foster (6-0, 232) does.

Noting that Slaton is "a smaller guy," head coach Gary Kubiak recently surmised: "We need somebody who can do a little more pounding, red zone, short yardage, those types of things."

A 6-3 and 220 pounds, Chris Brown could be that guy if he can stay healthy. His recent history suggests he cannot, however, and that could open the door for Arian Foster. He isn't a between-the-tackles pounder in the LenDale White mold but Foster is big enough and powerful enough to be a nice complement to Slaton.

Also working in Foster's favor is the fact Houston loves to utilize its running backs as receivers. Slaton caught 50 passes as a rookie, and Foster excels at catching the ball out of the backfield. He reeled in 83 passes in 48 games as a Vol.

Further enhancing Foster's chances to stick with the Texans is the fact Houston did not select a running back in last weekend's NFL Draft. Instead, the Texans signed Foster and Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson as undrafted free agents.

Johnson ran for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns with the Ducks last fall but is a small back (5-10, 210) who caught just 36 passes in four college seasons.

Bottom line: Arian Foster has only an outside chance to be in Houston's starting lineup next fall but he has a pretty good chance to be in the Texans' running back rotation.

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