HOUSTON -- Ben Tate was in a position any rookie would envy.
Drafted by the Houston Texans in the second round in 2010 after a stellar senior season at Auburn, the running back was competing for a starting job.
But almost as quickly as his opportunity came, it was over when a broken right ankle in the first preseason game ended his rookie campaign. Arian Foster emerged to lead the NFL with 1,616 yards rushing, meaning Houston would have a talented backup when Tate returned.
The 24-year-old Tate insists he doesn’t waste time thinking of what might have been.
"This is where I’m supposed to be," he said. "Maybe I wasn’t ready yet. Maybe I thought I was ready, but maybe I wasn’t. You never know. I just always think things happen for a reason and I just go with the flow and don’t think about it anymore."
Tate appeared in 15 games last season and finished with 942 yards rushing as a complement to Foster. He had just 6 yards rushing in Houston’s season opener two weeks ago, but stood out against the Jaguars with 74 yards and two scores and along with 23 yards receiving. He was chosen offensive player of the week by the coaching staff.
Foster had 110 yards rushing last week to help the Texans to 2-0 entering Sunday’s game at Denver.
For Tate, instead of lamenting the chance he missed because of his injury, he prefers to focus on the improvements he made, both mentally and physically while rehabilitating from it.
A major change during the time he wasn’t playing was revamping his diet. Tate was crazy about junk food, from gummy worms to ice cream, but his biggest indulgence was probably the worst.
"I would definitely bake a cake and eat it without even thinking about it," Tate said.
He’d be lying if he said he hasn’t baked a cake and eaten a piece or two since he changed his eating habits, but he certainly bakes less often. He keeps fruit and yogurt in his refrigerator as an alternative to the junk he once loved to scarf down.
"The best thing that came from (being out) was being more aware of my body and learning how to eat," he said. "Having that time off and being away from football and just being able to sit down and just think about different things and talk to different trainers and figure out how to eat right. Once I learned those types of things it started making a difference in my body and how I started feeling."
Because he’d never had a major injury before, Tate struggled to deal with the setback. He relied on his family and faith to get through it and believes he came out stronger in the end.
"Before I took those things for granted, and when playing the game that I love gets taken away, it makes you think about those things and cherish those things more," he said.
Coach Gary Kubiak said he expects the split of plays between Foster and Tate to be about 4-2 in favor of Foster.
"He’s come a long way," Kubiak said of Tate. "He’s grown up a great deal. He practices tremendously. He practices very hard. He pushes Arian. Arian pushes him."
Quarterback Matt Schaub raved about playing with two talented running backs.
"When they’re in there, they execute and play at a high level, whether it’s Arian or Ben, whether it’s the run game or the pass game," Schaub said. "I know it’s good for me because if nothing is open downfield, such as last week, I check it down to them and they’re going to make plays. They’re guys that you get the ball in their hand (and) very rarely does the first guy bring them down, and that’s a good luxury to have."
A key to Tate’s success might be that he hasn’t lost the mentality of a starter. He’s always ready to go in and because he never knows how much he’ll play, he doesn’t think about success in terms of total yardage. He simply aims to average more than 5 yards a carry.
He’s just short of that goal through two games with a 4.7 average.
Tate admits that going from college star to NFL backup has been an adjustment.
"Definitely have to get used to it," he said. "It’s not something I’m used to right now, but you have to learn how to be more mentally aware and more prepared. It’s not something that I’m used to or something that I’m going to be used to—ever. Because in my mind I’m better than that."
He enjoys playing with Foster and believes their pairing is beneficial for not only them, but for the offense overall.
"It’s always good competition-wise because you’re always pushing each other," he said. "It’s good for the team because it only makes us better. In games we don’t wear down as much. We’re always a lot more fresh in the fourth quarter."
The Texans ran the ball 48 times against the Jaguars last week, which gave both Foster and Tate a chance to showcase their skills.
"I feel like he’s always had ability," Foster said of Tate. "He’s always been able to make plays, and it’s just about getting the opportunities in this league. The more plays you make, the more opportunities you get."