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QBREES9 05-18-2010 10:13 PM

Texans RB Slaton recovered from neck surgery
Texans RB Slaton recovered from neck surgery, ready to rebound

Associated Press
HOUSTON -- Steve Slaton can't wait to get back on the field for the Texans.

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The running back struggled in 2009 with fumbling and a nerve problem in his neck, winding up with a subpar second NFL season after rushing for a franchise-record 1,282 yards as a rookie.

Slaton and the Texans had downplayed the extent the nerve issue contributed to his fumbling. But after having offseason neck surgery to correct the problem, Slaton acknowledged that it was a major factor in his inability to hold onto the ball.

Slaton said he couldn't feel his right arm from the thumb to his shoulder.

"If you can't feel your hand, then you really can't squeeze as hard as you want to," Slaton said this week as the Texans began their offseason work. "I tried to downplay it, but it came to a point where it was so serious I had to get surgery."

Slaton fumbled seven times and rushed for just 437 yards in 11 games before he was placed on injured reserve. Now that the feeling in his arm has returned, Slaton is confident he can return to top form.

"I think any player is going to feel like they have something to prove," Slaton said. "Definitely from having a positive first year and such a negative second year, I think I need to get back to what my first year was."

Slaton hasn't been cleared for contact, but he participated in Houston's non-contact team practices this week. He smiled broadly as he darted and dashed through the defense and down the field Tuesday, his face conveying the sentiment he shared after practice: "I'm excited," he said. "Just to be out here feels good."

The Texans ranked first in the NFL in passing yards last season, but the offense had trouble in short-yardage situations with a running game that finished 30th. Slaton hopes his return can change that number, and coach Gary Kubiak is counting on it.

"He's had a good offseason," Kubiak said. "Steve will come back. This team needs him to come back big time."

The 5-foot-9 Slaton bulked up last season to about 215 pounds, but he has returned to his rookie weight of 199 pounds. He gained weight to help deal with the hits he takes from much bigger players, then decided it hurt his effectiveness.

"I feel more comfortable at this size," Slaton said. "I think it just utilizes what I'm good at, my speed and my quickness."

The Texans also extensively use Slaton in the passing game on short throws that he often turns into bigger gains. He has made 94 receptions for 794 yards and five touchdowns in his first two seasons.

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Quarterback Matt Schaub is excited to have a weapon like Slaton.

"Absolutely, I think we all are," Schaub said. "He's running well. He looks good. He says he feeling good, and it will be fun to get him back out there playing healthy and good football."

The Texans drafted Auburn's Ben Tate in the second round this year to add depth at running back and give them a bigger player to complement the smaller, shifty Slaton. Tate ran for 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and left Auburn with 3,321 yards in four seasons.

Houston also has Ryan Moats and Arian Foster on its roster, but Slaton plans to keep the starting job.

"I'm always going to feel like it's my job," Slaton said. "I feel like I want to be the leader. It's definitely competition, but if you look at us all individually, we all offer something different, so that's a positive thing."

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