HOUSTON – Houston running back Arian Foster wants to get one of his offensive linemen into the Pro Bowl. He certainly wouldn't turn down an invitation for himself.
Foster has emerged as Houston's top running back at training camp. That's a hopeful sign for a team that ranked 30th in the league in the category last season (92.2 yards per game).
Foster capped an impressive training camp with an 18-carry, 110-yard performance against Dallas on Saturday. He's secured the starting job heading into Thursday's preseason finale against Tampa Bay, a remarkable accomplishment after he went undrafted last spring and spent most of last season on Houston's practice squad.
The 6-foot-1, 227-pound Foster rushed for 2,964 yards in four seasons at Tennessee, second on the school's career list. He could've jumped to the NFL after his junior season, but opted to stay in school, a decision he now regrets.
The Vols went 5-7 in 2008, Foster rushed for only 570 yards and his draft stock slipped.
He was invited to play in the Senior Bowl after the season, but pulled a hamstring in the final practice before the game. Foster missed the NFL combine, and couldn't recover in time to impress scouts before the 2009 draft.
He spent the weekend of the draft in Arizona with family and friends, playing cards and golf while the teams made their picks. When he wasn't chosen, Foster virtually gave up hope he would ever play in the NFL.
"Initially, I was just distraught," he said. "As a little kid, you just want to get your name called. That's what you dream about. That didn't happen, so I basically thought that my career was over. I really didn't know anything about the undrafted free agent process. I thought I was done."
But teams did start calling, and the Texans saw enough potential to sign him.
"We saw a lot of talent in college," coach Gary Kubiak said. "There was some knocks (on him) coming out that were keeping him from being a drafted player. We took a chance on him, and we battled him last year with some of those knocks, and he's kind of grown up."
Kubiak encouraged the rookies before training camp began, but Foster's new teammates weren't so supportive in the locker room.
"When I first started coming in here, you could feel the looks like, 'Oh, he's going to be gone.'" Foster said. "You could just feel it. They might not mean it intentionally, but they say it with their eyes. You could see it, you could feel it."
Foster injured his other hamstring at camp, and was demoted to the practice squad. He tried to impress coaches with his work ethic throughout the season, but worried every day that he'd be cut by the following week.
"You're always doubting because on the practice squad, it's like you're expendable, very expendable," he said. "If they need somebody, and they need room, you're the first to go. That's hard living like that. It's tough, but you try to make it so they don't want to let you go."
While Foster quietly worked, Houston unsuccessfully searched for a dependable running back. Ryan Moats and Chris Brown fizzled, and Steve Slaton, who led all rookie rushers in 2008, fumbled too much the next season and missed the last five games with a neck injury.
The Texans finally turned to Foster, who ran for 218 yards in Houston's final two games, both victories.
"When the opportunity came," he said, "I made the most of it."
Foster said that he's got something to prove to every team that snubbed him in last year's draft. Undrafted free agents rarely make it in the NFL, but Foster is proud to live up to the tattoo on his left biceps that reads, "Against All Odds."
"I've been told that I shouldn't accomplish anything that I have in my life," he said. "I wasn't supposed to go to college, I wasn't supposed to play on varsity in high school. I definitely wasn't supposed to go to the NFL, I definitely wasn't supposed to start.
"I wasn't supposed to make any noise," he said. "Now, it's that I'm not going to play for very long. I like hurdles, man. They define you."