Ravens up against record-setter in Texans' Arian Foster

December 10, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Arian Foster's journey includes performing poorly before a group of NFL scouts, being humbled as an undrafted rookie, and toiling away on the Houston Texans' practice squad before getting his big break near the end of last season.

Foster is beginning to enjoy the fruits of that labor, compiling a career year for the Texans and leading AFC running backs in Pro Bowl voting.

But the second-year player out of Tennessee, who spoke with Baltimore media during a conference call Thursday, is taking his sudden vault into the limelight as quietly as he entered the league.

"I really don't look too much into that," Foster said of the 414,033 Pro Bowl votes he had received as of Wednesday. "I think it's a nice gesture, and it shows that the fans are appreciative of your game, but I think my ultimate goal is to win. I know that sounds cliched, but you don't really get excited about a lot of the individual accolades if your team isn't winning. Hopefully, we can get these things together, and I can enjoy both of them at the end of the season."

Houston fans have enjoyed Foster's explosion onto the NFL landscape. The 24-year-old leads the league in rushing yards (1,230), rushing touchdowns (13) and yards from scrimmage (1,709), and has made many people forget about Steve Slaton, the organization's third-round pick in 2008, who ranked sixth in the NFL with 1,282 rushing yards in his rookie season before a spate of injuries relegated him to the sideline.

But is this what the Texans envisioned from an undrafted player who ran an unremarkable 4.7-second 40-yard dash at his school's Pro Day?

"I wish I could tell you that I thought he'd be that productive, but he has surprised us somewhat," coach Gary Kubiak conceded. "Not his ability, but just how quick he has grown up as a pro and stuff. He got a little bit of an opportunity at the end of last year and took advantage of it. And then instead of going through an offseason and starting over, he took advantage of the offseason and was probably as good a worker as we've had and kept progressing. [He is] really taking advantage of an opportunity and playing very well for us."

Foster's less-than-stellar showing at the Pro Day contributed to his being bypassed by all 32 teams in the 2009 draft. After the draft, the Texans, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed interest in Foster, who selected the Texans over the Saints because he thought he had a greater opportunity to play in Houston.

After spending 10 weeks on the practice squad, Foster was promoted to the active roster, and in his first career start against the New England Patriots -- the regular-season finale -- he rushed for 119 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns.

The 6-foot-1, 227-pound Foster picked up where he left off with a franchise-record display in the first regular-season game this season, rushing for 231 yards and three touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts. He set another Texans record with six 100-yard games this season.

Foster has thrived behind the team's zone-blocking schemes, which require a running back to recognize gaps swiftly and without a lot of dancing behind the line of scrimmage.

"I just kind of take what the defense gives me," he said. "I'm a real smooth runner; I think I'm deceptively fast, I get upfield and I can make you miss in the open field."

Ravens Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said the defense is well-aware of his ability to be patient.

"He hits the hole hard once he sees it, and he's been doing that consistently against every team," Ngata said. "He'll start you one way and then once he sees that hole, he'll just hit it. He does a really good job of doing that, and their fullback does a good job of opening up those holes, too. He's pretty good."

Foster is equally dangerous catching passes out of the backfield. He ranks second among running backs in receiving yards (479) and is tied for third in catches (50).

Baltimore defensive coordinator Greg Mattison compared Foster to the Ravens' Ray Rice.

"A taller version, but the same kind of guy," Mattison said. "Ray Rice, you see him, and he makes a lot of linebackers break their ankles. The thing that happens is, you say to the linebacker, 'OK, you better get close to him on a check-down because he's going to make you miss.' Well, now you've opened up the [running lane] right behind [the linebacker], and that's what they're trying to get you to do. We've got to make sure that we get guys cupping that when we come down."

Foster will get a chance to demonstrate his abilities against a Ravens defense that ranks sixth in the league against the run and has kept the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall and the Buccaneers' LeGarrette Blount under wraps.

Kubiak insisted that Foster will be a significant part of the offensive game plan.

"Running the ball is part of what we do regardless of who we play," Kubiak said. "We've got to give Arian his touches, and we've got to feel like we can run the football regardless. That's got to be a mindset for you as a football team. I don't think any of us ever know what it's going to take to win a game -- whether your production is going to come from one or the other -- but you've got to go in there with a mindset of, 'This is what we do, and let's go get after it and let's see what happens.'

"They've been a great defense for a long time, not just right now. I've gone against them many, many times over the course of the last 10 or 12 years. They're consistent in what they do and how they do it."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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