Being called the best backup running back in football is sort of like getting branded the best beauty pageant runner up ever. This isn't a supporting actors situation. No one is handing you a golden statue no matter how well you do in the role.
Still, it's a title Ben Tate needs to own. He's in a contract year. His chances of getting a major money deal as another team's starter in the offseason depends on how well he establishes himself as the ultimate No. 2.
And the New Orleans Saints certainly are not going to question Tate's bona fides.
Not after Tate darted and rumbled through new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's revamped D for 74 yards in one half of preseason work Sunday. Tate averaged 6.7 yards per carry, scored a short touchdown. He did what he usually does against New Orleans (Tate went off for 95 yards against the Saints in a 2011 preseason game and picked up 82 yards a few weeks later in a regular season shootout rematch).
Ben Tate ran like a future star — and like his old self.
He became the man with Texans coach Gary Kubiak wisely continuing Arian Foster's preseason rest. Tate ran like a future star — and like his old self.
"I was definitely out there to prove a point," Tate said after a 31-23 Saints win that's scoreboard and standings meaningless. "And I felt like I got my point across."
You could say that.
There were shredded tackles (including a nice stiff arm) and more darting moves than Tate's generally shown before. He also unleashed a vicious block on a should-have-been Texans touchdown pass (it was dropped).
Tate ripped off a 39-yard run on his third carry of the game and he'd have 69 yards by the end of the first quarter. This was the 2011 Ben Tate, the guy who came close to picking up 1,000 yards on only 175 carries. The dramatic falloff in Tate's production last season (279 yards on only 65 carries) is an underrated factor, one that helped drastically limit Foster's opportunities in the passing game.
Kubiak clearly never felt confident he had a difference maker capable of taking some of the ground burden off Foster in 2012. It doesn't matter how much fantasy football players love Ben Tate, how often he's promoted as the ultimate Arian Foster insurance. It only matters how much Kubiak trusts him.
If that changes, if Tate can stay healthy and productive, the Texans offense instantly becomes more dangerous.
"I'm right where I want to be," Tate said. "I'm feeling good, excited. I'm ready for the season to get going."
Texans Offensive Promise
Even with Foster and big-play rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins both sitting the Saints game out, the Texans' first-team offense produced five plays of more than 20 yards in just a half of football. That's with second year receiver Keshawn Martin seeing several chances for big plays bounce off his hands and usually sure-handed tight end Owen Daniels outright dropping a pass in the end zone.
This Matt Schaub-orchestrated attack has the potential to be one of the most explosive offenses in the entire league. If secondary stars like Ben Tate play at a high level.
"He's been having a great camp," Johnson said of Tate. "Nothing has surprised me about what he is doing. He has been working his butt off. I am a big fan of Ben."
This attack has the potential to be one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. If secondary stars like Ben Tate play at a high level.
The production of guys like Johnson and Foster — No. 23 missing the entire preseason isn't a worry, it's a huge legs-saving bonus — is a virtual certainty. Tate is still anything but a sure thing though.
Sunday is a good tease, but nothing more yet. Ben Tate's equally capable of being a difference maker or a disappointing bust.
And based on how the Texans' first-team pass defense looked against New Orleans, the Texans could need another offensive difference maker.
The Texans played without three starters on offense (Foster, Hopkins and Wade Smith) and four starters on defense (J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Ed Reed and the suspended Antonio Smith). Anyone who tells you that the third preseason game is all important is reaching. It's important unless you're talking about really important players.
It's important for a Ben Tate. But even the best No. 2 running back in the NFL will make his money in the fall.