Foster, like Rice, redefining running-back position

Arian Foster's (left) Houston Texans play host to Ray Rice's (right) Baltimore Ravens in a matchup...

Arian Foster's (left) Houston Texans play host to Ray Rice's (right) Baltimore Ravens in a matchup of the only AFC teams with winning records. (Reuters/Files)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:22 PM ET

HOUSTON - Arian Foster and Ray Rice are hardly clones.

Foster is a big bowling ball. Rice is a little bowling ball.

Both star NFL running backs can not only knock over the 'pins' on defence like Earl Anthony, but they're both multi-talented to the degree that they're leading the movement to redefine one of the most integral positions in their sport.

And their teams, it seems, are always playing one another in a high-stakes game.

Foster's Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon play host to Rice's Baltimore Ravens in a matchup of the only AFC teams with winning records. They're both 5-1.

Foster is a prototypical '80s-style pounder -- 6-foot-1, 230 pounds -- while Rice is a squatter version of the latter-day Emmitt Smith make and model, at 5-foot-8, 208 pounds.

Both not only can catch the ball -- they're exceptional at it. And prolific.

Since 2010, when Foster burst onto the scene in his second year, he and Rice rank 1-2 in the NFL in total yards gained from scrimmage. Foster has 4,694 (3,401 rushing, 1,293 receiving), while Rice has 4,559 (3,066 rushing, 1,493 receiving).

They're not alone. Darren Sproles (San Diego, New Orleans), LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia) and Matt Forte (Chicago) are the other NFL running backs with 1,000 receiving yards this decade. But those three haven't piled up the running yardage like Foster and Rice.

Foster, in fact, two weeks ago became the third fastest running back in NFL history to pass the 5,000 scrimmage-yards (rushing and receiving) threshold. He did it in 40 games. Only Edgerrin James (36) and Eric Dickerson (39) got there faster.

In a training-camp interview, Rice told me that "if you're a running back and you can't catch as well as you run, you're going to find yourself weeded out pretty quickly." And that "if you think you can take 25 carries week in and week out, try it. You'll be done in three years."

On Thursday, I asked Foster -- now in Year 4 -- what he made of Rice's observation.

Unlike Rice, who gets about a quarter of his touches as a receiver, Foster in Houston has been called on to run it pretty much 25 times a game this season, at the expense of his receiving touches. In the Texans' five victories this year, Foster's carries went like this: 26-28-25-24-29.

"I think a lot of it has to do with your situation," Foster told QMI Agency. "I'm in a situation here where this offence does run the ball heavily, and I'll get 300-plus carries a year. I'm of the notion that if you take care of yourself, you'll last long in this league. There have been workhorse backs in this league for a long time.

"But I think what Ray emphasizes is if you want to remain valuable to your team, you have to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, and be a reliable pass blocker. And I think you'll start seeing more and more of these backs come out (of college) being good pass receivers."

Foster, 26, said Rice was bang-on with his assessment that high school and college running backs must adopt a mindset of being dual-threat runners and receivers if they want to make it in the NFL in the years to come.

"Yeah, absolutely," Foster said. "I remember some running backs in college who couldn't catch a lick. But I was the son of a receiver so I used to run routes all the time with my father (Carl Foster, a wideout at the University of New Mexico)."

With diversity and prolificacy comes reward, as both Foster and Rice happily discovered this year.

In March, the Texans re-signed Foster to a five-year, $43.5-million contract. Days later, the Ravens slapped the one-year franchise tag on Rice, to prevent him from becoming a free agent.

Rice was upset, not because he wanted to test the waters, but rather because he wanted to stay in Baltimore with his future set.

In July, just minutes before the 2012 deadline for clubs to re-sign franchise-tagged players, Rice and the Ravens agreed on a new five-year, $40-million deal.

One friend who helped Rice through the tumultuous four-month wait was Foster.

"He congratulated me when it happened for me, and I congratulated him when it happened for him," Foster said. "Because you always like to see talented players (get rewarded) -- especially running backs, because we get so disrespected throughout the media and things like that.

"We are valuable pieces in the offence, and we're not expendable. You can't just put anybody back there if you want prominent production."

Especially two-way production.

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/

Arian Foster vs. Ray Rice, tale of the tape
CATEGORYArian FosterRay Rice
TEAMTexansRavens
AGE2625
GREW UP INAlbuquerque, N.M.New Rochelle, N.Y.
HEIGHT6-foot-15-foot-8
WEIGHT230 lbs.208 lbs.
NFL YEAR4th5th
CAREER RUSH YARDS3,6584,859
CAREER RUSHING TDs3629
CAREER RECEIVING YARDS1,3862,468
CAREER RECEIVING TDs55
2012 RUSHING YARDS561482
2012 RECEIVING YARDS72233
DUAL-THREAT MILESTONE 1Ranks 1st in NFL since 2010 with most yards gained from scrimmage, 4,694 (3,401 rushing, 1,293 receiving).Ranks 2nd in NFL since 2010 with most yards gained from scrimmage, 4,559 (3,066 rushing, 1,493 receiving).
DUAL-THREAT MILESTONE 2With LaDainian Tomlinson and Priest Holmes, the only NFL players with 1,600 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving in a single season (2010).With Marshall Faulk, the only NFL players with multiple seasons of 1,000 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving.

Videos

Photos