Late in the fourth quarter, running back Arian Foster took one stride and crumpled to the turf on Miami’s Sun Life Stadium. His helmet buried in the dirt, Foster was coming to the painful realization it was his last play in a Texans’ uniform. GM Rick Smith silently looked upon his fallen star, knowing it was the end too. He knew that Foster, the brilliant but often times injured Texans star, would need to be replaced. The Dolphins pounded the Texans that day, leading 41-0 at halftime in one of the most embarrassing losses in Houston football history. The loss and Foster’s injury, while certainly devastating, were not the most memorable part of that mid-October day. Across the sideline, a young star was emerging right before the Texans’ own eyes. In a coming out party of sorts, Lamar Miller gashed the Texans defense routinely. Accelerating past defenders with electric speed and juking out of weak tackles, Miller celebrated a career day against the Texans, recording 236 total yards and two touchdowns. Miller was only giving Texans fans a preview of what was to come.
To put it politely, the Texans offense limped into the playoffs. In a disastrous AFC south, the offense had just enough in the tank to creep into the AFC Wild Card game. The Texans walked away from that game with more questions than answers on offense, as the team failed to put up a single point in a blow out loss to the Chiefs. Watching that dreadful game, Owner Bob McNair and Rick Smith both knew voids needed to be filled. If the Texans wanted to win now, they needed to make a splash in free agency.
Looking across the field, Texans management knew they needed a running back. While backup Alfred Blue filled in admirably in Foster’s absence, the truth stared everyone in the face that he wasn’t going to be able to carry a playoff team alone. After signing Brock Osweiler to a major deal to become the new Texans quarterback, the team searched for someone to pair with their new big arm in the backfield. Looking at the free agent pool, the team found their man. In a moment of déja vu from their 2015 season, the Texans decided to ink former Miami running back Lamar Miller to a lucrative four year deal to become their premier back.
With Miller’s signing, the Texans hope the man that had his career day against their team, now will make that a routine.
“When I saw Lamar a little while ago, I didn’t immediately recognize him because I’m so used to looking at his back,” a joyous Bob McNair said at Miller’s opening press conference.
Miller made his mark that day, but showed what could make him the next great Texans running back. In that game, Miller showcased his most brilliant trait: his speed. At the University of Miami, Miller ran track for two seasons, including running in the 100 meter relays. He also showcased that speed at the NFL combine, where he ran a dazzling 4.4 40 yard dash. Miller possesses some of the best speed of any running back in the league, something that separates him from other backs. One of the best examples of his speed at the NFL level came when he sprinted for a 97 yard touchdown against the Jets in 2014 (see video below).
With his elite speed, some critics argue he may be just a one-trick pony with an inability do much else other than sprint past defenders. To that, GM Rick emphasizes he certainly he is not.
“He doesn’t offer just speed,” Smith said. “He’s a complete running back. He has a skillset that will allow our creative coaches to utilize him in a way that’s a threat to defenses.”
While his elite speed is undoubtedly a big part of his game, Miller showcases other abilities that make him a worthy starter in the NFL. Like he showed against the Texans, Miller can make an incredible impact receiving out of the backfield too. In particular, he’s an incredible asset in the screen game because of his vision to find the open field and ability to make defenders miss in open space. Miller can be an elite receiving back in the NFL, if used properly.
In addition to his receiving skills, Miller contains an unexpected ability to weather the storm in the brutal NFL season. While he didn’t receive a full workload in Miami (a good thing for Texans fans), Miller played in all 16 games in 2014 and 2015 when he was the lead back for Miami. Late in the 2014 season, Miller led the league in yards after contact with 3.7, an incredible figure that shows his ability to handle the physicality of the position. Miller also rushed to 1,099 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in that season, showing the productivity of a starting back, despite limited touches. Speaking of those limited touches, Miller received only 15 touches per game last season, despite the exceptional productivity he showed while in Miami. Those limited touches forced Miller to seek greener pastures in Houston.
“I know in this offense, they get their running backs involved” Miller said. “I just wanted to be a part of that. I feel like with my skill set, I can help this offense.”
With Miller’s move to Houston, he looks for an opportunity to become one of the best backs in the NFL. At age 25, he has the youth, and certainly the ability, to show he is one of the league’s brightest, young stars. If his day against Houston in 2015 was any indication of what he’s capable of, he’s ready for a chance to shine.
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