Texans counting on 'diverse' RB group to keep Lamar Miller fresh

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans' offense depended heavily on its running game last season, and for the most part, it relied on the legs of Lamar Miller.

In 2016, Miller turned in a career-high 268 carries for 1,073 yards and five touchdowns. Even though he missed the last two games of the regular season, he accounted for 59 percent of the team’s carries. Miller’s backup was running back Alfred Blue, who also played in 14 regular season games and ran for 420 yards on 100 carries.

Now, with the addition of third-round pick D’Onta Foreman, the Texans have an extremely diverse group that will be competing for a roster spot during training camp. Along with Miller, Blue and Foreman, the Texans have Akeem Hunt, 2016 fourth-round pick Tyler Ervin and undrafted rookie Dare Ogunbowale out of Wisconsin.

“It’s probably the most competitive group that we’ve had since we’ve been here, and it’s a really diverse group,” running backs coach Charles London said. “You have guys that we consider three-down backs, we have some first- and second-down backs, we’ve got guys that can really help in the passing game. So, it’s a really diverse group that as coaches we have to find a way to maximize each other’s skill sets.”

London said Miller has “been great for the group." Now that he’s entering his sixth season, he’s been able to help the younger players in the running backs room.

“He talks to the guys a lot about things he’s doing to take care of his body and maybe some of the struggles he went through when he was a young player,” London said. “He’s a great sounding board for those guys and I’ve really seen him kind of take a leadership role this year.”

Behind Miller, the Texans expect Foreman to challenge Blue for the backup position. The rookie acknowledged that he is doing extra conditioning in an effort to lose some weight before training camp starts. If Foreman can win the backup job, he will be able to spell some of the heavy workload Miller shouldered last year, especially early in the season.

Miller said part of the reason he thinks this group will succeed stems from the accountability the running backs derive from London. London said he works with the group on everything from taking care of their bodies to preparing for the upcoming season. And for rookies, that starts with the basics: learning how to be a professional and how to take notes in the meeting room.

“I think he does a great job,” Miller said of London. “He holds all of us accountable. It really doesn’t matter if you’re [at] the bottom of the depth chart or the top. He holds everybody accountable, making sure everybody’s doing their job because at the end of the day, he’s our coach, so you’ve got to make him look good. He’s a great coach. When I first came here he taught me a lot. He’s a great coach.”

London says that accountability must be present throughout the coaching staff in order to ensure Miller’s workload is more balanced in 2017. This, the coaching staff hopes, will give Miller fresher legs for the end of the season and -- hopefully -- playoff time.

“We relied on [Miller] a lot, particularly early in the season,” London said. “A lot of times he had almost 30 carries in a game, which is a lot in the NFL. But I think he did a great job. And as coaches, I think we probably need to balance his workload a little bit more, we need to be able to use the diversity we have in the group so we can definitely have Lamar at his best in December and January.”