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Worth the Wait, Steve Slaton Is Offensive Force Texans Wanted

Aug 21, 2009 – 12:00 PM
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Calvin Watkins

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Steve SlatonHOUSTON -- With the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL draft, the Texans could have played it by the book. Quarterback Vince Young and running back Reggie Bush, both expected superstars, were waiting to be taken.

Instead, the Texans opted for defense, taking end Mario Williams, assuming they would find a dynamic offensive player later on.

It took until 2008, but that player finally arrived: Steve Slaton.

Slaton was the Texans third-round pick last season, and he emerged a bright star. He made fantasy football owners happy by rushing for 1,282 yards, best among NFL rookies in 2008 and sixth overall. Slaton also scored nine touchdowns.

He added to a Texans' offense that finished second in the AFC in total offensive plays, 1,019, and tied for second in yards per play, 6.0. The Texans became the second team this decade to have a quarterback throw for more than 3,000 yards (Matt Schaub), a running back rush for more than 1,200 yards (Slaton) and a receiver gain more than 1,500 yards (Andre Johnson).

The last team to do that was the 2000 St. Louis Rams.

Schaub and Johnson are the experienced players of this trio -- Slaton is the surprise find.

"You can always get better," Slaton told FanHouse. "I wasn't worried about past draft classes. I was worried about my draft class. I just wanted to work on the small things, the little things that I didn't know more of, like the playbook."

The Texans plan to use Slaton even more this season. He will still get a breather from Ryan Moats from time-to-time, but he's the starter.

"I think he has quiet confidence," Texans running backs coach Chick Harris said of Slaton. "When things go wrong, he keeps calm and cool. He works his way out of situations. When things are falling down around here, he keeps his cool. If you have talent and you're correctable, then you can be good. He's a good individual, who wants to get better."

Harris knows something about rookie running backs. He was the running backs coach in Seattle when Curt Warner rushed 335 times for 1,449 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1983. And then he held the same position with the then-Los Angeles Rams when Jerome Bettis ran 294 times for 1,429 yards and seven TDs in 1993.

"All of them had the intangibles to succeed," Harris said. "Steve was a third-round choice and he thought he would be a specialty player, then all of sudden, as the competition got better, he got better, and as he started to learn he got better."

Slaton has to make sure he doesn't fall into the sophomore slump this season with the Texans having so much on the line. Team owner Bob McNair said he expects a playoff berth, especially after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

Knowing more of the playbook so he can play for longer stretches and reading his blocks better should help him improve, Slaton said.

Slaton's ability to hit the hole quickly and make people miss in space are what he brings to the offense. If he continues on that path, the Texans' attack will be in good shape again.

As for the 2006 draft, Bush is still looking for the breakout year while battling knee issues, and Young is a backup in Tennessee. Slaton and the Texans take on Bush's Saints on Saturday night.

Bush is still trying reach his expectations. Slaton is setting his.

"It's hard to know the whole playbook in one-whole year," Slaton said. "There are a lot of things thrown at you in one year, a lot of stuff in every week. It doesn't get old, whatever you learn is the bread and butter."
Filed under: Sports