HOUSTON - Steve Slaton fumbled a pitch on one play and got his helmet knocked off on another during the second day of Houston Texans minicamp on Saturday. Later, he dodged three would-be tacklers and sprinted down the field.
The former West Virginia star, drafted by the Texans in the third round, is getting plenty of snaps to show coach Gary Kubiak what he can do. Now if he can only memorize the complicated playbook.
``I'm just trying to learn the system, trying to get the plays down so that I can make an impact right now,'' said Slaton, the 89th overall pick. ``The pass plays and the pass protections, that's where my biggest trouble is coming from.''
The 5-foot-9, 197-pound Slaton rushed for 3,923 yards for the Mountaineers and is third in career rushing in the Big East. But that means nothing to the Texans, who have six running backs on the minicamp roster.
Ahman Green and Chris Brown are the top two on the depth chart. Green missed most of last season with a left knee injury and Brown signed as a free agent after five seasons in Tennessee. Chris Taylor missed last season with a knee injury, Darius Walker played in only four games and Arliss Beach spent last season on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad.
They all have more NFL experience than Slaton, but he doesn't think that's a disadvantage.
``Everybody went through college once. Everybody was a rookie,'' Slaton said. ``It's just the learning phase and a transition, but I feel very comfortable.''
Slaton made a smooth jump from high school to college, rushing for 1,128 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman at West Virginia. He ran for a school-record 1,744 yards as a sophomore and was the nation's fourth-leading rusher.
He missed spring practice in 2007 following wrist surgery and his numbers dipped in his junior season. He developed a reputation for fumbling late in his college career and coughed up two on Saturday.
Running backs coach Chick Harris said Slaton has made ``typical rookie mistakes'' in the first two days of minicamp. And he has ways of helping Slaton hold on to the ball.
``I can cure that,'' he said. ``I've done it with guys before. You just bang 'em and bang 'em and bang 'em until they understand the importance of keeping the ball in your hands.''
Slaton is confident that he can physically match up with bigger, faster defenders than the ones he faced in college. Harris said it's hard to gauge how Slaton has performed because of how much the coaching staff has thrown at him.
Harris estimated that Slaton's playbook was about 300 pages thick.
``Sometimes, that minimizes all the things you can show,'' Harris said. ``You're trying to digest all this new information. But I've seen some spots where he's really shown the quickness and running ability to really get it done.''
Slaton left college a year early, after coach Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan. Slaton and Mountaineers quarterback Pat White accounted for 13,433 total yards and 106 touchdowns in their three seasons together and they discussed the draft early after the Fiesta Bowl.
White, the same age, stayed in school, but the two have kept in touch and Slaton has given White the lowdown on his first days as an NFL rookie.
``I told him the playbook, it's a lot more,'' Slaton said. ``There's a lot more covered in one day. In college, you get a few days to install things and then you keep working on it. Now, there's a lot more each day.''
Slaton said he might as well forget the offense that put the Mountaineers among the nation's top-10 scoring teams in the last two seasons.
``We ran no-huddle, so all our plays, everything was just done by hand signals,'' Slaton said. ``Here, the play-calling, there are so many formations and so many plays and different routes you have to run. It wasn't overwhelming. I kind of knew what it was going to be like.''
Harris said Slaton has already shown plenty of raw talent.
``He's going to be fine,'' Harris said. ``He's got good speed on the outside, he's got the explosiveness. He has the skills, no question about it. This guy has been much too successful to not be good enough.''

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