Foster’s injury creates chance for Tate

Two games into his NFL career, Ben Tate isn’t thinking much

about the elite group he’s already joined.

The Houston Texans’ running back is the 11th player in league

history to open his career with back-to-back 100-yard games, a list

that includes Earl Campbell, Billy Sims, Marshall Faulk and

Edgerrin James.

Carnell ”Cadillac” Williams is the only running back to reach

100 yards rushing in his first three games. Tate will probably have

a chance to match Williams on Sunday when Houston (2-0) plays at

New Orleans (1-1), because 2010 NFL leading rusher Arian Foster is

still limited by a left hamstring strain.

”It’s an awesome group to even just be mentioned with those

guys, but it’s just the start to my career,” Tate said.

”Honestly, I haven’t taken time to really think about it, but I

would have to say it’s important. I guess it’s a big thing that it

happened.”

Despite Tate’s fast start, Houston coach Gary Kubiak said Foster

will regain his starting role when he’s fit enough to play. Foster

took some snaps in Friday’s practice, and will be re-evaluated

Saturday.

”It’s tough,” Foster said. ”I think it’s more mental than it

is anything because like I said before, it’s not something you can

really push through. It’s not something that you can play with at

100 percent, so you just got to be patient with it. It’s just got

to work that way.”

Tate can relate to Foster’s frustration. The former Auburn star

was a second-round pick by the Texans in 2010, then broke his right

ankle in Houston’s first preseason game and was placed on injured

reserve.

And like Foster, Tate was hampered by a hamstring injury during

training camp this year. Kubiak became concerned with how much

practice time Tate was missing, but Tate has proven to be a quick

learner.

”It’s fun to watch,” Kubiak said, ”when you get a guy who’s

talented, just watching them try to become a pro or as they become

a pro, I guess is a good way to put it. He was out last year. He

did study. He stayed in his book. He comes into camp this year, he

misses a little time, he just kept working.”

Tate saw his first live action in more than a year in Houston’s

second preseason game, rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown in a

27-14 win over New Orleans.

”He’s got good balance and vision,” Saints coach Sean Payton

said. ”Certainly, you wouldn’t have guessed that he hadn’t played,

so he’s been exciting to watch, or follow, if you will. I think he

certainly carries his pads well. He’s explosive. He’s got good

vision and I think he’s someone that’s very elusive.”

Foster was inactive for the Texans’ season-opening win over

Indianapolis, and when backup Derrick Ward left the game with a

sprained right ankle, Tate made the most of his long-delayed

opportunity, rushing 24 times for 116 yards and a touchdown. He ran

for 103 yards in a 23-13 win in Miami last week, helping the Texans

keep the clock moving late with 13 carries in the fourth

quarter.

”I think that’s us telling how much confidence we have in

him,” Kubiak said. ”The way he was carrying that ball in the last

10 minutes of the game, there was no doubt who had control of what

was going on. That player right there is telling you by how he’s

playing to `Give it to me. I can get it handled,’ so hopefully that

continues to grow.”

Tate expects to have some challenging blocking assignments on

Sunday against the Saints’ blitz-heavy defense. But Tate downplays

the difficulty of the transition from college, and says he’s

confident that he can handle pro-level pass protection as well as

he’s handled his rushes.

”The defenses are more complex,” Tate said. ”They bring

different blitzes, and you have to deal with more blitzes. Other

than that, at the end of the day, it’s football. I wouldn’t say

it’s hard to figure out. Everybody knows that protecting the

quarterback is important.”

Eventually, Foster will get his job back, and Tate will be

relegated to a reserve role once again. For now, Tate isn’t fazed

by that.

”I can’t worry about what’s going on with Arian,” Tate said.

”The only thing I can focus on is me.”

Notes: Kubiak was optimistic that WRs Jacoby Jones (bruised left

knee) and Kevin Walter (bruised right shoulder) will be ready to

play by Sunday, even though Jones has sat out team drills this

week. … Seventh-round draft pick Derek Newton will move into

backup tackle Rashad Butler’s spot on the depth chart. Butler was

placed on injured reserve this week with an elbow injury.