Anything but sure he'd back in Houston this season, Ben Tate allowed himself to imagine what life might be like in another NFL uniform. The third-year tailback thought he might be one of The Expendables.
Surely, the ultra productive understudy of Arian Foster wasn't immune?
"I knew it was a possibility," Tate says. "I thought they might trade me and try to fill in some of the other gaps on the team."
"I'm going to do everything I can to help get this team to the Super Bowl," Tate says. "Whatever it is. That's what I'm going to do."
Tate followed the rumblings on the Internet that had him going here or there for a draft pick (as unlikely as they were considering how reasonable Tate's salary is compared to his production). A move could have meant the opportunity to be a starting tailback, something playing behind the best running back in football doesn't allow. Tate won't say if he was relieved to see the NFL Draft pass with him still a Texan.
But as soon as it did, he turned the page to a new focus.
"I'm going to do everything I can to help get this team to the Super Bowl," Tate says. "Whatever it is. That's what I'm going to do. That's what I'm thinking about now."
Tate figures that Super formula is simple for the Texans' offense — and it centers around what he dubs the supporting cast, a group he puts himself in.
"You know Andre (Johnson), Arian (Foster) and (Matt) Schaub are going to play great," Tate says. "They're some of the best in the league.
"It's up to all us supporting players around them to play as close to their level as we can. If we play great as a supporting cast, we've got a great chance to do it.
"We all have to raise the level of our game."
Tate was the best complementary back in the league last season, gaining 942 yards on only 175 carries. He averaged a yard more per carry (5.4) than Foster, which doesn't mean he's close to the difference maker Foster is. You'd have to be related to Ben Tate to believe he's better than No. 23.
Teams don't relish the idea of seeing No. 44 barreling toward them either though. And Tate expects to be better this season.
After his rookie year ended before it truly began with an ACL tear in the preseason, his second season began with a lockout that wiped out OTAs and mini camps and compacted training camp. In many ways, this is Tate's first chance to go into an NFL season full bore.
"I'm a lot more comfortable," Tate says. "It's different having been in the offense for a year. I'm a lot more confident in the things I'm being asked to do."
Tate looks it in OTAs, which enter their third and final week Monday morning. He's breaking into the secondary on runs (albeit in shorts). He's not afraid to chirp back at a Texans' Bulls On Parade defense that loves to bark.
"He's got some fire in him," defensive end Antonio Smith laughs.
The Music Man
Tate laughs when a reporter asks if he spent his offseason in Houston.
"Are you kidding?" he says. "I'd kill myself if I spent the whole year here."
It's not that Tate has anything against Houston. Rather, he feels the tug of getting out there.
"I've been anywhere and everywhere this offseason," he says. "You name it."
Tate was the best complementary back in the league last season, gaining 942 yards on only 175 carries. He averaged a yard more per carry (5.4) than Foster.
Tate will host a free football camp for kids in Salisbury, Md., where he was born and raised, on June 16. He's starting to let himself enjoy life as an NFL player as well.
He attended the second concert of his life this offseason, with the first having come not long before.
"The first concert I ever saw was Jay-Z and Kanye (West) together," Tate laughs. "That pretty much spoiled me for everything after.
"Those guys are great."
Tate is not bad at collaborating himself. With the Texans having locked Foster up for the next five years this offseason, Tate's days in Houston might be numbered (he's signed through next season at a team-friendly $490,000 for 2012 and $575,00 in 2013). And he'll likely find No. 23 getting all the big carries in the playoffs (Tate didn't touch the ball in that second round playoff loss to Baltimore, his hometown team).
But he'll have his moments, be a big part of making the Texans running attack something special. Maybe he'll make another team dream of what it'd be like to have No. 44 starting in their backfield.
That's the business of the NFL and it's never far away from a dazzling run.
"I'm trying to improve every part of my game," Tate says. "You can always get better."
Soon, Ben Tate might be too good to stay. Until then, Texans fans would be wise to enjoy the show behind the best running back in football. It just might be great.