HOUSTON (AP) -Texans rookie running back Steve Slaton has no problems dealing with menacing NFL defensemen. He faces a much more trying foe at home: his soon to be 2-year-old son Julian.
``A cranky 2-year-old is more difficult than a defense because defenses you only deal with on Sunday. The son you deal with 24/7,'' Slaton said with a smile.
All kidding aside, the former West Virginia standout has been dealing with both pretty well this year. The 22-year-old leads the Texans in rushing with 701 yards and has embraced his second job as a father to Julian.
Slaton is coming off a season-high 156 yards rushing, including a 71-yard touchdown run, in Houston's loss to the Colts. His performance was the second highest rushing total in franchise history and his touchdown run was the longest run in team history.
He's averaging 5.1 yards a carry and leads the team with seven touchdowns. Slaton's rushing yards are 12th in the NFL and third among rookies.
``I don't know what we would have done from Week Two on had he not stepped to the plate and held up the way he's held up,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ``We could have really had some serious, serious issues with Ahman (Green) missing some time. We would have kind of been back in the same boat we were last year.''
Slaton's girlfriend and Julian lived in his hometown of Philadelphia while he was at West Virginia, so this is the first time he's lived with his son full-time. Julian doesn't understand exactly what his father does, but three of his favorite words are da-da, football and touchdown, so he seems to have an idea.
``It's a new adventure in my life,'' he said. ``In college I didn't have the stability of them around all the time, so it's definitely a bright spot to come home from a game and just stay home and forget about it. He brings a brightness to me every day.''
Slaton's play has been a bright spot in a tough season for the 3-7 Texans. Houston has had problems at running back since Domanick Williams (formerly Davis) was placed on the injured reserve just days before the start of the 2006 season.
They signed Green to a big contract before last season but their woes continued when he missed 10 games with a knee problem. Hoping to avoid similar problems this year, the Texans signed Chris Brown in the offseason to back up Green.
When they drafted Slaton in the third round, the plan was for Green and Brown to split most of the carries and for the rookie to be a third-down back.
Plans changed when Brown was put on the injured reserve with a back injury before the season and Green hurt his ankle after starting in Houston's opener. Slaton was thrust into the starting job in his second NFL game and responded with 18 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown.
By the time Green was healthy two weeks later, Kubiak decided Slaton would remain the starter.
In the weeks since, Slaton has impressed with his attitude and play. In a loss to the Vikings earlier this month, with Green out with another injury, Slaton was involved in 69 plays.
Slaton never complained about the workload, but Kubiak knew it was too big of a load for the 5-foot-9 player. It showed a week later when he was so beat up the Texans only gave him four carries in a loss to the Ravens.
The light week proved beneficial to Slaton and he returned for his career-best performance against the Colts. He said it was a relief to get a long touchdown run reminiscent of many of his scores at West Virginia.
Slaton ran for 3,923 yards and 50 touchdowns in three season with the Mountaineers.
, it gets the monkey off your back,'' he said. ``You don't know if you can do it on the same level and to get one like that makes you think that hopefully there's more to come.''

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