NFL

James Casey making case for fullback job

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HOUSTON (AP)

After a college career as a defensive end at Rice - where he once played seven positions in a single game - Casey has spent the past two years with the Texans shifting between tight end and fullback.

Casey opened training camp this week as the starting fullback, replacing Pro Bowler Vonta Leach, who moved on to the Baltimore Ravens. It appeared that finally, Casey might zero in on one spot in the lineup.

However.

The Texans signed free agent fullback Lawrence Vickers prior to Wednesday afternoon's practice. Casey is still the starting fullback, but for how long? It will be a battle of experience versus youth.

''He fits what we do,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ''It will be a great competition between him and James and these young guys.

We're excited to get him. It gives us more avenues as a football team since we lost Vonta.''

During his career in Cleveland, Vickers was the lead blocker for three 1,000-yard rushers. Last season he blocked for Peyton Hillis, who amassed 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns.

At least for now, Casey's main focus is fullback.

''Right now, it looks like the best spot for me to get on the field is at fullback,'' Casey said.

Casey says he's not bothered by his fluid situation with the team.

''I'm not mad about it,'' he said. ''It's not like I want to be a tight end and I'm going after the coaches every day and saying, `Hey, I want to play tight end.' I'm fine playing fullback. I can still do a lot of stuff in our offense playing fullback.''

Leach was a menace to opposing linebackers as a blocker and that was his main function for the Texans. Arian Foster led the NFL in rushing with Leach plowing a path for him.

Casey does not have the blocking ability that Leach possessed. Still, Casey could add a new dimension.

He caught eight passes for 98 yards at tight end last season and served as backup for Leach.

''Right now it's just getting used to the fullback position, learning how to be the lead blocker,'' Casey said. ''I've been going through the plays the first two years, but now it's just getting comfortable back there with everything that's going on.''

Leach was a vocal presence in the Texans locker room. He promoted himself with his slogan: ''Send Leach to the Beach.'' He had t-shirts printed with the slogan and gave them to teammates.

''I'm not planning a slogan in the near future,'' Casey said. ''I'm just trying to learn my position and when preseason starts show my coaches and teammates I can handle the job.''

Casey spent the offseason in the weight room, adding muscle for his chance to earn a starting position.

''I bulked up a little bit, about 10-15 pounds,'' Casey said.

''When you're bigger you can handle more punishment and you are more durable. You can move guys better. That was the main thing.''

Kubiak sees the possibilities for expanding the fullback position with Casey as the starter.

''There's some things we can do with James that maybe we didn't do with Vonta,'' Kubiak said. ''We could be built a little different when it's all said and done, but we don't need to get in a hurry here.

''James is very athletic. He's a tight end with great hands, very athletic, smart, can handle a big load. He could give us some flexibility, but right now I want him to settle down, learn the position and we'll go from there.''

Quarterback Matt Schaub is confident the Texans can move forward without Leach.

''I don't worry about that too much because it's not just one guy leading the way through,'' Schaub said. ''The offensive line did a heck of a job and the receivers do a heck of a job blocking. So we have guys who can step in and do that as well.

''The fullback position only plays so many snaps. There's a lot of snaps where we're not even with a fullback. I'm confident that we have the personnel that we have to get it done.''

Vickers has appeared in 76 games with 36 starts in his five-year career with the Browns. He has gained 271 yards (6.6 avg.) on 41 receptions for three touchdowns and has rushed for 87 yards (2.6 avg.) on 33 attempts.

Tagged: Browns, Ravens, Texans, Vonta Leach, Lawrence Vickers

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