Where the Texans’ backfield, David Johnson stands after Mark Ingram trade


The exit of veteran starter Mark Ingram, via a trade to the New Orleans Saints initiated by them and welcomed by him, dramatically changes the equation at the Texans’ running back position for one of the worst running games in the NFL.

A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Ingram provided a hard-nosed, downhill style that didn’t necessarily create a lot of yards as their leading rusher with just 294 yards gained with a 3.2 average per carry and one touchdown run, but he did lend a physical and experienced presence to the Texans’ offense. Without Ingram, a former Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, the Texans don’t have a back like him who can break many tackles or move the pile forward.

The 1-6 Texans are now expected to feature David Johnson, their primary back last season and a 2016 All-Pro selection with the Arizona Cardinals, again with Ingram gone and increase the role of former Denver Broncos Pro Bowl runner Phillip Lindsay. Johnson is averaging 3.9 yards per carry and has gained 104 yards on 27 carries and has 19 catches for 154 yards and one score on 24 targets as the third-down back. Lindsay has rushed for 97 yards on 38 carries, gaining just 2.6 yards per run with a team-best long run of 35 yards.

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals

Photo: Getty Images

“Obviously when we lose Mark to a different team, I’ve got to prepare to run the ball more,” Johnson said. “I was already used as a third down and as a receiving back, but now it’s just getting more carries.

“It’s just part of the business, that’s how I felt. Especially with the trade deadline coming up, and a lot of injuries going on to the running backs as a whole in the league, that’s how I felt, it’s part of the business.”

Johnson had a season-high seven carries for 25 yards in a 31-5 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, his old team and the beneficiary of a controversial trade involving him that netted All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and caught five passes for 27 yards.

“He's a guy that obviously he's a really good runner and he's got a different skill set when it comes to the pass game,” Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said of Johnson. He provides us opportunities to take advantage of different matchups and he did a good job of winning those the other day. He’s done a great job earning the quarterbacks’ trust since the beginning of training camp.

“He’s done a great job earning the quarterbacks' trust since the beginning of training camp. With that, paired with his ability, to run the football it provides us opportunities to get him the football."

Without Ingram, Kelly emphasized that it will likely be a committee approach for the Texans with increased opportunity for other players.

That could include former undrafted running back Scottie Phillips, the Texans’ leading rusher during the preseason who’s been inactive for six of seven games played.

“All of those guys have to do a good job of picking it up,” Kelly said. “Just due to numbers, there's going to be more carries for those guys and more opportunities to make plays. We still have a good room with guys with different skill sets. It’s our job to find a way to get the ball to them and move the football and score points.”’

Of course, that task is extremely difficult against Rams defense headlined by three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

“He’s as disruptive a player as we've seen,” Kelly said. “They do a really good job of moving him around so you can't pinpoint where he’s going to be every play. You have to build in some safeguards there and find what are you going to do to prevent him from making a game-wrecking play."

Johnson had an altogether different role last season with the Texans, albeit during a 4-12 season.

He played 550 snaps, 74 percent overall of the Texans' offensive snaps.

Johnson finished with 1,005 all-purpose yards and eight total touchdowns last season in a dozen games played as the Texans finished 31st in the NFL in rushing last season as they averaged just 91.6 rushing yards per contest.

When the Texans hired former New England Patriots executive Nick Caserio as their new general manager, he had plenty of decisions to make. Among them: whether to retain Johnson.

As Caserio learned more about Johnson’s character and work ethic and strong desire to remain with the Texans, he made it a priority to keep him and negotiated a restructured contract with a maximum value of $6 million with Johnson’s agents at Sportsstars Inc., Brian Mackler and Jonathan Perzley.

Now, Johnson’s contract includes a $3 million signing bonus and a fully guaranteed $1.25 million base salary, $4.25 million guaranteed at signing and a salary-cap figure of $4.82 million. Johnson can make an additional $750,000 in roster bonuses for being active every game, at a rate of $46,875 per game.

Johnson can make an additional $2 million in not likely to be earned incentives that include reaching statistical milestones, the playoffs and individual awards, including NFL Most Valuable Player and NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

Johnson was originally due a $7.95 million base salary with $2.1 million guaranteed from his three-year, $39 million contract acquired from Arizona.

“Most definitely, I wanted to come back here,” Johnson said. “We love the community here. We love the organization and what they did for me and my family, everything they did to get everything situated with the doctors, schooling. It was a pretty easy choice for me. It was just figuring out the contractual part of it and it worked out good."

Johnson rushed for 691 yards and six touchdowns and caught 33 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns last season. Johnson generated at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the fourth time in his career.

Johnson averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season.

Toward the end of last season, Johnson increased his production with a season-high 128 rushing yards and a score on 12 carries in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and 84 yards on 14 carries in a season-ending loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Ingram’s loss leaves the Texans without arguably their strongest and loudest leader.

“Leadership, the voice, he was always talking, getting everyone pumped,” Johnson said. “I think now the other guys, including myself, are going to have to step up and just try to get our morale back and lead this team.

“We’ve got a lot of vets on the team, so from that aspect, I feel like we’ve got vets, and they know how this business is. In the NFL, guys get traded, you lose guys. Guys are going to step up.”

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.


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