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Is 2010 The “Age Of Arian” For Fantasy Owners?

Shortly before Carl Foster and his now-ex wife Bernadette Sizemore would watch their second son and third child enter the world sometime during Aug. 24, 1986, in Albuquerque, N.M., Carl was determined to give the newest addition to their family a “name of great importance,” and “Arian” caught his fancy – it means holder of knowledge or water-bearer. Arian lived in Albuquerque through his sophomore year of high school, and, yes, he played football at the local high school. The coaches, however, told Foster that he was better suited to play defense, and they used him mainly at linebacker.

With his mother’s blessing, Foster moved to San Diego, Calif., in 2000 following his parents’ divorce to live with his father, and perhaps it was a blessing for the young Foster’s football career. Foster starred on the gridiron during his junior and senior years at Mission Bay Senior High School (San Diego) as a starting tailback. During his senior season (2003), Foster amassed 2,500 all-purpose yards, which included 2,093 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. He also tacked on six scores with kickoff returns. Foster was named
San Diego Union-Tribune’s All-San Diego Western League Player of the Year, and he earned All-California Interscholastic Federation honors.

THE COLLEGE YEARS

Why did Foster decide to play his college football at Tennessee? As you probably suspected, despite Foster’s success at Mission Bay, he did not receive a recruiting sniff from any of the major West Coast college football programs. The recruiters were very turned off by how Foster carried the ball away from his body and by how upright he ran. Former Tennessee running backs coach Trooper Taylor and former Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders were visiting California on a scouting trip when they discovered Foster. Despite the flaws in Foster’s game, Taylor and Sanders were impressed by his ability, and Sanders successfully lobbied former Volunteers head coach Phil Fulmer to agree to bring Foster into the fold.

Foster’s Tennessee playing career had its share of ups and downs. The philosophy major was redshirted in 2004, but his Volunteers career got off to a good start in 2005. Foster edged out junior Gerald Riggs for the starting tailback job, rushing for 879 yards and five scores on 183 rushes (4.8 yards per carry) to earn All-America accolades from Rivals.com. His best game was a 223-yard effort against Vanderbilt. Foster’s 2006 season, however, was disappointing. Nagging injuries forced him to miss two games and limited his playing time in others. Stuck in a time share, Foster ended the season with just 322 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 91 carries (3.5 yards per carry) to go along with 11 catches for 88 yards.

Foster’s exaggerated problems with ball security that would eventually lead to him being unfairly nicknamed “Fumblin’ Foster” by some bitter Tennessee fans apparently started in the 2006 Outback Bowl against Penn State. With the score tied at 10, he fumbled at the Nittany Lions’ 12-yard line with close to 10 minutes left in the game. The ball was recovered and returned 88 yards for a score by Penn State cornerback Tony Davis, and Joe Paterno’s crew won 20-10. The miscue was Foster’s second of the game.

Foster’s 2007 season was his most productive with the Volunteers. Starting all of Tennessee’s 14 games played, he finished sixth among SEC rushers with 1,193 yards and 12 rushing scores on 245 carries (4.9 yards per rush). Foster also caught 39 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns. In the minds of some, his stellar season was overshadowed by a critical lost fumble in a contest against the Florida Gators while the Volunteers trailed 28-20 in the third quarter. The Gators won 59-20, and that was Foster’s only fumble of the season. The loss to Florida was not his fault.

With Foster’s sights set on the NFL following an outstanding junior year, this rising star wanted to declare for the 2008 NFL Draft. Although draft experts told Foster that he was second-round talent, the running back followed his mom’s advice and returned to Knoxville for his senior season. Bernadette says she now deeply regrets giving her son that advice. Foster’s 2008 senior year was a disaster to say the least, and his draft stock tumbled. In fairness to Foster, the Tennessee program was in turmoil because Fulmer, according to rampant rumors, was out after the season. Foster also had to play for his third position coach and third offensive coordinator that preferred to use the team’s runners in a committee approach. The Volunteers also had offensive line and quarterback problems.

Although Foster started 10 of 11 games, he carried just 131 times for 570 yards (4.4 yards per rush) and one touchdown, and caught 19 passes for 166 yards. There was also another untimely fumble. Foster lost the rock on Tennessee’s first possession of the second half against UCLA on the Bruins’ 6-yard line. The scored was tied up at 10, and the Volunteers lost 27-24 in overtime. Some bitter Volunteers’ fans insist the miscue changed the course of the game. By the way – you guessed it – that was Foster’s only fumble of the season. He left Tennessee as the school’s second all-time leading rusher with 2,964 yards – just 114 yards behind school all-time rushing leader Travis Henry (3,078).

There also was Foster’s senior season “pterodactyl incident.” While in the middle of a self-imposed media ban, he supposedly consented to an interview, as long as it was conducted in pterodactyl language. Foster and his family insist it was all a joke, but the incident played a role, fairly or unfairly, in branding him as a rogue player in the minds of some NFL scouts.

THE NFL YEARS

Foster remained determined to make it in the NFL, but his on-the-field bad luck streak that had started during his senior year continued with a dismal all-around performance during Tennessee’s pro day, which included a very disappointing 4.7 time in the 40-yard dash. He wowed many at the NFL Scouting Combine during his interviews, but Foster had pulled a hamstring during the Senior Bowl and was unable to play in that game and was forced to miss all the Combine workouts – which further fueled concerns about his durability. Combine that with Foster’s ball security issues – the fumbles were few, but always seemed to come at critical times – and the subtle character concerns (the pterodactyl thing), and you understand why Foster’s pre-NFL Draft stock dropped like a stone. Foster, a philosophy major who liked to write poetry and make music, went undrafted.

Calling it his last shot to make it in the pros, Foster signed with Houston as an undrafted free agent in May of 2009. He was a great fit for Houston’s zone-blocking one-cut-and-go scheme. The Texans released Foster on Sept. 5 but signed him to their practice squad the following day. With Steve Slaton struggling and the Texans looking for another option at tailback, they promoted him to the active roster in mid-November. Foster’s first action at running back came in Week 14 against the Seattle Seahawks (13 rushes for 34 yards and four catches for 54 yards). Foster grabbed the attention of fantasy owners during the last two games of the regular season, rushing 19 times for 97 yards and a touchdown in Week 16 against the Miami Dolphins and rushing 20 times for 119 yards and two scores against the New England Patriots in Week 17.

With Slaton falling out of favor with the coaching staff because of fumbling and a generally disappointing 2009 showing, Foster had looked like he was a serious candidate to start in 2010 when destiny placed another hurdle in his path: the Texans drafted running back Ben Tate (Auburn). As you know, Tate broke his ankle in preseason and Slaton failed to regain his 2008 form, which opened the door for Foster to step up and claim the starting job.

THE FOSTER FANTASY FORECAST

Is 2010 the “Age of Arian” for fantasy owners? I’m going to say yes: I think he is the real deal and will keep the starting job – assuming he stays healthy and does not turn the ball over at inopportune times. There is some misinformation circulating about Foster’s measurables that I would like to clear up: first, he is not a small running back. According to the Texans, Foster is 6-foot-1, 224 pounds, which is a very good size for a running back. There is also varying opinions about his speed. Foster’s best pre-draft Combine time was 4.45 seconds, so it’s fair to say he is deceptively fast. Granted, Foster’s tendency to run upright and carry the ball away from his body are worries, but it looks like the Houston coaching staff has corrected those problems. Foster runs with good power and vision, and he can break tackles. In addition, we all know the Texans have a potent Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson-led passing attack, so opposing defenses can’t focus solely on stopping Foster.

Don’t expect Foster to carry 33 times per game each week. Thirty-three carries per contest over a 16-game regular-season schedule would give you 528 rushing attempts. No running back can carry that many times in a year. Slaton should start to see a few extra carries per game to give Foster a breather, but that will not cut into Foster’s fantasy stock. Foster obviously resembles a diamond in the rough for the Texans and fantasy owners. He was definitely on the rise as a junior at Tennessee, and quite a few things happened between the start of Foster’s senior season and the NFL Draft that drove his pre-draft value down. I think we are finally seeing the version of Foster from his junior year. Unless somebody makes you a mega-trade offer for Foster, I strongly suggest rolling with him this year to see where he takes your fantasy team.

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