Can Slaton Take the Next Step?

Texans running back Steve Slaton was one of the biggest pleasant surprises of last year's team, as he led all rookie rushers with 1,282 yards on the ground. Throw in 10 touchdowns (one receiving) and five runs of 40 or more yards and Slaton was a certain candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year.

Many believed that Houston would draft another running back to compliment Slaton this season, but they decided not to, and Slaton is clearly the man for the Texans in 2009.

"I put some pressure on him," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said of his star running back. "I think he's got to be one of the most improved players, too, because a lot of talk centered around who's going to help us along with Steve. If Steve goes and gets better, then our football team is going to be better. So that's a little pressure on him, but all of us guys really think he can do it, from players to coaches. So I'll be excited to see how far he can go."

The Texans offense finished third in the NFL behind one of the best passing attacks in the league and if they are going to finish better than 8-8 this year and make a legitimate playoff run, they will need to be balanced. Even with Slaton's fantastic rookie season, there is room for improvement.

Steve Slaton (Getty Images)
"(I just want to) do a lot more," Slaton said. "I think I pride myself on improving. I just want to be better than last year."

Everyone knows that Slaton is one of the most explosive runners in the league, but can he be more of an all-around back? That's what the Texans coaching staff is asking their young star to do.

"I think my pass protection," Slaton said when asked what the coaches have requested him to focus on. "I feel like I can do better. I feel like there's always something I'm going to have to work on. I'm probably going to improve just having a year getting more into the system. I should be better just over time. "

Houston is hoping that Steve Slaton doesn't fall into any kind of sophomore slump this season, as the only players behind him on the depth chart are Ryan Moats, Chris Brown, and a pair of undrafted rookies in Arian Foster and Jeremiah Johnson.

"I think Ryan (Moats) and (Chris) would be 2a and 2b, however you want to list them," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "But the bottom line is Steve's the starter and I think everybody else is out there battling for a job to help the football team."

The main thing for Slaton will be to just stay healthy, something that many have feared with a player of his size.

"It's not surprising," Slaton said of the additional wear and tear in the NFL. "I mean, you kind of expect it because it is going longer. Playing in college, you have those aches and pains, but coming into the NFL, you have the bigger guys and you have a longer season, so you know it's going to be that little bit extra."

If Steve Slaton and quarterback Matt Schaub can both remain healthy in 2009, the Texans could be a legitimate division title contender.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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