By now, Texans fans have accepted an all-too-familiar reality: Arian Foster is hurt, and he’s going to miss time in the upcoming season.

Foster proved a season ago that he’s still one of the top runners in the NFL when fully healthy, and at this point it doesn’t seem to matter what’s going on around him because he’s going to produce.

The trouble is that Foster is 28 years old now with a lot of mileage in his legs, and NFL running backs often have abbreviated primes. This trend has actually been bucked a little bit in recent years.

We’ve seen Justin Forsett emerge in his late-20s, Adrian Peterson may still be the best back in the league at 30, and guys like Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore are also very productive later in their careers.

But age isn’t the only factor. Foster seems to have been gradually breaking down for a few years now, and in the context of typical running back career arc, it looks pretty bleak.

And if you’re a Texans fan, that has to start you wondering: is Alfred Blue prepared to become the feature running back for this team?

For 2015, the answer is probably no. Foster is expected to return in a few months’ time, and if things go as they usually do with him he’ll probably be as productive as ever when he’s on the field.

Meanwhile, the team brought in Pierre Thomas for a tryout earlier this month, which certainly makes it seem as if they’re a little uneasy turning over regular carrying duties to Blue.

The best projection for the coming season is probably that Blue will start and manage a moderate workload until Foster’s healthy, and then return to his backup role.

But as mentioned already, Foster is a long-term health concern.

He’s probably near the end of the rope no matter how good he is when he actually laces up, and Alfred Blue is still just 24 heading into his second NFL season after being hailed for much of 2014 as a draft day steal (he was selected in the sixth round out of LSU).

So the question isn’t necessarily whether or not Blue can emerge as a genuine RB1 in 2015. Rather, it’s whether or not he can show enough to ease the team’s concerns moving forward.

On that front, the early expectation — or at least hope — seems to be that yes, Blue will earn the opportunity to succeed Foster when the oft-injured star finally moves on.

Foster’s contract expires after the 2016 season, which makes the timing pretty good for Blue to emerge in his mid-20s as the true RB of the future, and thus far he’s shown that he has the ability to do so.

As a rookie in 2014, playing almost exclusively in a backup role, Blue managed 528 yards on 3.1 yards-per-carry, by no means astounding numbers, but pretty good for a rookie runner who wasn’t a main focus of the offense.

He showed capability as a receiver as well, catching 15 of his 18 targets and in one of his three starting opportunities he managed to top 150 yards on the ground. That effort came at Cleveland and as the result of 36 carries.

It was a bit of an outlier, and by far Blue’s best performance, but it was enough to get you intrigued if you’re paying close attention to Houston’s running back situation.

Meanwhile, despite the aforementioned flirtation with Pierre Thomas, the Texans appear to have no one else to start in the absence of Foster.

In the team’s first preseason game against San Francisco, Blue looked every bit the part of an RB1, racking up 59 yards in just nine attempts (compared to backup Chris Polk’s 29 yards on 10 attempts). Again, it was nothing exceptional, but it was enough to make you curious.

Ultimately, the question of Blue’s potential as the running back of the future in Houston is one we just can’t answer right now.

But it’s going to become one of the most interesting topics of the first half of the NFL season, because how Blue performs while Foster is sidelined for an extended period will likely decide where he goes from here.

In the meantime, Houston fans should feel fortunate that there’s someone on the roster who even has a chance of filling in nicely for Foster.

By Joe Messineo

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