Cedric Houston was willing to pass up his first career touchdown -- for the right reason, of course. After 10 months of apprenticing behind throwback Curtis Martin, who is the fourth leading rusher in NFL history and has never gyrated or gesticulated after scoring a touchdown, Houston has learned, among other things, humility.
When the Jets kicked around the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 11, Houston had carried the ball 25 times before the Jets’ final drive. On the final Jets possession, B.J. Askew, who also has yet to break the plane of an NFL goal-line, carried the ball eight straight times and got the Jets to the Raiders 2-yard line.
Then the coaches called for Houston to use his 220-pound frame to steamroll the ball into the end zone. Yet this was slightly unsettling for the rookie running back from Tennessee. He felt Askew should get the credit for putting in the heavy lifting.
“He did all the work to get down there,” Houston said. “I asked him: ‘You want me to go to full back and you go to tailback?’”
Askew didn’t want to stir up trouble with the coaches, so Houston took the hand off and leapt into the end zone. The touchdown was Houston’s first as a pro, and in a veteran solicitation of the referee, he got to keep the ball. It remained tucked into his locker for about a week. Later it was shipped to his mother, Lanette.
It was Houston’s most memorable moment as a professional, but it would’ve been a mere dream had Martin not had season-ending knee surgery. However, before the Jets season turned from Super Bowl to Super Bust, Houston shadowed one of the best players in NFL history.
“Curtis is like my big brother. Everywhere he goes I’m going,” Houston said during training camp. “If you see Curtis you’ll see me right behind him in his back pocket.”
Maybe that’s why the rookie wasn’t fazed with taking over for his mentor.
Houston finished the season with 302 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, but don’t judge him by an abbreviated tenure as a starter behind a patchwork offensive line. Houston battled a thyroid condition and wasn’t able to practice with the team until training camp, missing all the spring practices.
“He’s the most improved football player on this team since spring,” said former Jets Head Coach Herm Edwards at the end of last season. “He got in shape, changed his body around and just kept working, kept working. Probably around the fifth week of the season, you saw the light go on for the guy….He just got better.”
To get a closer look into Houston’s season, Jets Insider.com staff writer James J. Parziale sat down with the rusher who's heading into his sophmore NFL season.
JI: What improvements did you look for after your first start?
HOUSTON: “I studied the game film real hard. I studied my footwork, studied things the offensive line did that I could project into a game”.
JI: How would you rate your performance in your first start?
HOUSTON:: “I’d say a C”.
JI: C? Are you being a bit harsh?
HOUSTON: “I’m always hard on myself”.
JI: How has Curtis Martin helped you in your development?
HOUSTON: “He’s helped me out since the day I stepped into this facility. He’s been like a big brother to me. I probably asked him a zillion questions every minute about football and what’s going on and he answers them all. So he helps me out a lot”.
JI: Has anything surprised you about the jump to the NFL from college?
HOUSTON: “I think the defensive linemen are a lot bigger. I looked across the field and I saw those two guys from the Raiders [365-pound DT Ted Washington and 300-pound Tommy Kelly] and I just tried to not look at them”.
JI: What was it like getting your first touchdown?
HOUSTON: “Two times we were on the 1-yard line and I was trying to get in then, the first time. I was trying, the last time, and I told myself no matter what that I’m going over the top. I probably could’ve stayed on the ground but I said before the play I was going to jump over the top”.
JI: How did you get to keep the ball after your first touchdown?
HOUSTON: “I had dived over the pile and someone had took it from my hand. I went to the ref and asked him if I could keep the ball”.
JI: You were going to let Askew score the touchdown?
CH: Yeah I told him. I don’t know if th coaches would agree with me. I mean he did all the hard work getting down there. I told him do you want me to play fullback and you play running back? He said no you go on and get it. You’re a rookie you’re going to get your first touchdown.
JI: Coach Edwards said at the end of the season that you were the most improved player since training camp considering everything you’ve had to overcome. Do you agree?
HOUSTON : “Yeah I knew they drafted because they knew I could make plays. I knew after OTAs I had to come back and come back in shape and prove to the coaches why they drafted me and show them the work ethic I had”.
JI: There are so many adjustments that rookie running backs need to make. What’s been your toughest?
HOUSTON : “Probably the pass pro (protection). It’s just hard on all the rookie running backs coming into the league. Being in practice is one thing and then being in a game and seeing a defense is totally different. You got to know what you’re doing when you get out there. You have to know what you’re doing”.
JI: How do you work on patience and seeing the holes before they open up?
HOUSTON : “It might take me a couple years to get the patience down to where I want it to be. Probably being in the game will help me be more patient. Being in practice won’t help me a lot. The defense isn’t going as fast as in a normal game”.
JI: Is there anyone you have tried to model your game after?
HOUSTON: “I used to watch Shaun Alexander a lot and I used to watch Alabama a lot. I used to see Shaun Alexander ripping up the Hogs.
JI: Does watching others in the NFL a help to you?
HOUSTON : “I think you can learn from watching other players. I think in the NFL a lot of teams run the same things they just call it something different. So you can see the certain way someone does their footwork or something like that”.