HOUSTON — Alfred Blue didn’t spend any time feeling sorry for himself when he didn’t hear his name called until the sixth round of this year’s NFL draft.
Houston’s rookie running back had long heard a familiar refrain from coaches that helped him navigate what would have been a disappointing time for many players.
“Coaches always told me, it’s not where you begin, it’s how it ends,” Blue said.
And in Houston he found a perfect example of that sentiment when he joined a backfield starring Arian Foster. Foster went undrafted out of Tennessee before signing as a free agent with the Texans and eventually developing into one of the NFL’s best running backs.
On Sunday when Foster was out with a groin injury, it was Blue’s chance to shine. The former LSU back took advantage of the opportunity, carrying a franchise-record 36 times and tying Houston’s single-game rookie rushing record with 156 yards.
He didn’t allow himself to soak in the moment during the win over the Browns. He was too busy worrying about the next carry.
“I never during the game sat down and relaxed like: ‘Wow, I’m doing good,’” he said. “Just keep your foot on the pedal. I knew I was running the ball hard and (I said) just keep doing what you’re doing and running the ball hard.”
It was a culmination of years of hard work for Blue, who was likely headed for a higher draft position before tearing his ACL in the third week of the 2012 season. He spent months recovering and said he didn’t really feel like himself again until midway through his senior season.
“It was very difficult. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome,” Blue said. “You’ve got to get your confidence back. You’ve got to train harder. You’re behind everybody, so really you’re coming from the back of the line to get back to where you were.”
When he was drafted by the Texans, Blue was determined to crack the 53-man roster and decided he’d worry about everything else after that. He developed an immediate bond with Foster, watching him intently on the practice field and asking him for pointers off of it.
He said the No. 1 thing Foster tried to drill into his head was the importance of being patient.
“When you do get carries you want to try to impress people so you’re not really running with patience,” Blue said. “You’re just trying to get it done and make that big run to wow the coaches.”
It took a while, but Blue finally understood why Foster harped on that singular point.
“As the season went on, I kind of started to understand what Arian was saying,” he said. “You can’t force it. Just be patient and that long one’s going to come.”
Foster is listed as day to day this week, but even if he returns on Sunday, coach Bill O’Brien said they’ll use Blue, too. O’Brien was asked if Blue’s performance on Sunday gave him confidence in the young running back. He insisted that he didn’t need that game to feel that way about him.
“I have a lot of confidence in Alfred. I really do,” O’Brien said. “If I didn’t have confidence in Alfred, I wouldn’t have played him against Cleveland. I would have played (Jonathan) Grimes more.”
And it isn’t just O’Brien who has noticed Blue’s work this season. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis raved about him as the Bengals prepare to meet Houston on Sunday.
“He really did a great job of making a lot of yardage after contact last week,” Lewis said. “He’s an impressive player. Obviously going through the draft process ... we had evaluations of guys and thought he was a talented player.”