Rookie Slaton ready to start for Texans

HOUSTON Coaches and teammates alike say the running back's progress since the draft has been impressive. With Ahman Green out indefinitely because of an injured ankle, Slaton's development will be key to Houston's success.

Slaton will get his first start on Sunday against Tennessee as the Texans return to the field after missing a week because of Hurricane Ike. He had 13 carries for 43 yards and three receptions for 6 yards in Houston's loss to Pittsburgh on Sept. 7.

"Steve has really grown up a lot," quarterback Matt Schaub said. "Running back is a very challenging position to come into as a rookie in this league, especially ... with all of the pass protections we do here in the running game and his pass routes. We ask him to do a lot and it's been a lot for him."

When Slaton was drafted 89th by the Texans this year, they didn't envision him as the starter, instead projecting him to be the third-down back they've never had. Green and Chris Brown were expected to split the bulk of the carries, but with Brown out for the season with a back injury and Green nursing an ankle problem, the job fell to Slaton.

He ran for 3,923 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons with West Virginia, but many believed the 5-foot-9 player was small to be an every-down back in the NFL.

Either way, that's what he will have to be for Houston, at least until Green gets healthy.

"We need a guy like him to become one (heck) of a player really fast," Kubiak said. "And if he does that it's going to help our team in the long haul. So there's no waiting anymore. He's a tough kid. We're counting on the kid doing it."

The Texans managed 75 yards rushing in their opener and Slaton's first start will be against a defense that is allowing 60.5 yards rushing a game.

The key to success, Slaton believes, is studying the opposing team.

"Try to learn your opponent as best as you can," he said. "It's going to make it easier if you know what they're going to do before they do it."

Slaton said he's getting more comfortable with Houston's pass protection schemes after not having to do much of that in college. He's gotten advice from everyone since his NFL debut two weeks ago and he listens to all of it. Slaton said he tries to soak it all in to help him improve.

Slaton didn't expect to be starting this soon, but he certainly hoped for it.

"You have to," he said. "You want to help out your team. You don't want to sit around. You want to do as much as you can."

While Kubiak thinks he's already shaken his rookie status, Slaton, who is sometimes still forced to carry the shoulder pads and helmets of veterans, isn't quite ready to agree with his coach.

"I still feel like a rookie," he said. "There's still a lot of stuff that I haven't seen. After I go through the season and learn the ups and downs, then I probably won't feel like a rookie anymore."

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