The Featured Back
With Arian Foster still anything but sure for Miami, Texans humble Big Head BenTate
Antonio Smith laughs when the subject turns to Ben Tate, who very well could be the featured back when the Houston Texans take on Miami Sunday (don't believe everything you read about Arian Foster's miraculous recovery). Smith is a surprise Texans' defensive captain, but he's a leader that sees both sides of the ball.
"You mean Big Head Ben," Smith told CultureMap after Tate racked up 116 yards in his first NFL regular season game. "That's what I call him. I tell him he's getting a big head because he's running so well. I tell him, 'Don't be no Big Head Ben.' "
Smith paused. "I've got to admit, I like watching him run though. He can run nice."
So nice in fact that the Texans will not be tempted to rush Foster back into full duty on Sunday. Oh sure, Texans coach Gary Kubiak says Foster will start. As long as there are "no setbacks." Which is a coach's way of saying we'll see and wouldn't it be nice to keep the Dolphins off guard. Foster is still listed as "questionable" to even play on the official NFL injury report and don't be surprised if Tate ends up with more carries against Miami.
CultureMap was the first to report — within hours of Foster hurting his hamstring in that preseason game — that Foster would likely miss the regular season opener. While the same news outlets that insisted Foster would play in Week One (right until he didn't) are now declaring Foster a lock to play Sunday.
Just don't be surprised if another "lock" doesn't pan out quite as expected. That MRI Foster tweeted backs up this murmur. It showed Foster would likely miss the first two games of the season, according to independent doctors consulted by national outlets like ESPN.
If Foster does actually return against Miami, Tate could still remain the featured back for one more week in everything but name.
No one thinks that the Texans offense is better without the NFL's reigning leading rusher. Foster brings a touch of quick cut, dance explosiveness that Tate doesn't quite have down yet. But Foster, who is playing for the first mega-sized contract of his career this offseason, is the only one who needs to be in a rush for his return.
Even with veteran tailback Derrick Ward out with an ankle injury, the Texans are very comfortable with Tate toting the football. It's not just the yards Tate racked up in his NFL debut.
It's how there never was any hesitation from a second round draft pick who missed all of last season with a devastating leg injury.
Tate's been a Bob McNair favorite since the day the Texans drafted him. It's not quite a Jerry Jones/Felix Jones man crush, but you get the idea that McNair gets a kick out of the guys who run a football smooth. Foster is another major favorite of the Texans' owner.
Tate swears he's unwowed by how he's running — mostly.
"It's just good to be doing what I'm supposed to be doing," Tate said. "That's how I've run all my life. It's good to put it to use."
Tate isn't a particularly big man (5-foot-11, 218 pounds) by NFL standards, but he's found success running a fair share of his plays inside, popping back out into holes created by Houston's underrated offensive line.
"I've never been afraid of contact," Tate said. "That's how I've always run."
Tate racked up more than 1,300 yards on 263 carries his senior year at Auburn, He's not afraid of a workload either. Once he gets back to the sidelines for the Texans after a series, he's also likely to get worked over by Smith.
"Big Head Ben," Smith laughed. "I call him that all day long."
Smith turns serious for a moment.
"He better not get a really big head," Smith said. "I won't let that happen. He's got too much talent to waste it.
"Big Head Ben."
The nickname is one thing Tate won't be shaking anytime soon. The Texans don't figure to be giving up their dependency on him quite so soon either.