Houston Texans

Bill O’Brien trying to talk himself into Texans running back situation

In the wake of Lamar Miller’s torn ACL, Bill O’Brien is trying to talk himself into liking the Texans’ running back situation.

With Lamar Miller going down with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee last Saturday night, the Houston Texans lost their reliable, consistent lead back for the season. In the wake of losing Miller, head coach Bill O’Brien is trying to remain optimistic.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, O’Brien said, “I think if you look at our running back situation right now, we have a good situation. I think adding Duke Johnson was a good move. He’s been good in the meeting room, in practice, very professional attitude. We’ll see what happens. Anything can happen.”

As O’Brien alluded to, Duke Johnson will step in the lead back role for Houston. He was acquired from the Cleveland Browns on Aug. 9, with the idea he and Miller would form a nice 1-2 punch.

Johnson mostly functioned as a passing situation back for the Browns, with 104 of his 299 career carries coming as rookie in 2015 and at least 47 receptions in all four seasons. Over the last two seasons, his catch (121) and carry (122) totals nearly match.

Beyond any questions about Johnson as a workhorse back, the depth chart gets thin after him. 2017 third-round pick D’Onta Foreman was waived, prompting the move to trade for Johnson, so that was largely a lateral move. But those that are now behind Johnson–Damarea Crockett, Josh Ferguson, Karan Higdon, Buddy Howell, Cullen Gillaspia and Taiwan Jones–have combined for 74 career regular season NFL carries and zero starts.

Crockett and Higdon were brought in as undrafted free agents this year, with Ferguson and Howell also going undrafted in their respective years (2016 and 2018) and coming in after being cut by other teams. Gillaspia, a seventh-round pick this year, is in line to start a fullback and Jones (44 career carries) is most likely to stick in a special teams role.

Since Arian Foster’s last season with the Texans in 2015, here’s a look at the running backs they’ve drafted and when they drafted them,

2016: Tyler Ervin-fourth round
2017: Foreman, third round
2018-None
2019-Gillaspia-seventh-round

Widening back to O’Brien’s first season as head coach in 2014, Alfred Blue (sixth-round, 2014), fullback Jay Prosch (sixth-round, 2014) and Kenny Hilliard (seventh-round, 2015) get added to the list of running backs Houston has drafted recently. Signing Miller was a necessary move to add a starting-caliber back in March ’16, but the Texans have failed to seriously bolster their pipeline at the most physically taxing and interchangeable position in football. There was some hope Foreman would become a future star, but a torn Achilles’ late in his rookie season and the recovery from it took that away.

It’s easy to point to the Texans as a team who should try to trade for Melvin Gordon, and Jay Ajayi is still out there as a prominent free agent. O’Brien did say anything can happen, but as Houston’s de facto general manager he doesn’t seem motivated to add a running back.

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