Dayne ponders lack of work, fate of big backs

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Ron Dayne didn't figure he'd be available for this weekend's festivities connected to the 10th anniversary of Wisconsin's 1998 Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl win. He figured he'd be playing.

He ran for 4 yards a carry last season and 773 yards total in Houston, missing a couple of games.

Now he's waiting for a call and hoping for another chance to carry the ball. He's got two things working against him: He is 30 and was last listed at 245.

Old backs are not a hot commodity. And big backs are less popular than they used to be, as fewer teams want the rugged type who needs a lot of carries to be most effective. Instead, more teams pair an average-sized back with an elusive, change-of-pace back that is more a big-play threat. In the AFC South, the Jaguars and Titans do it that way, while the Colts use two smaller backs.

Houston is still sorting out its backfield after starter Ahman Green (218), but the three other AFC South teams have their tandems established:

In Indianapolis it's Joseph Addai (214) and Dominic Rhodes (203).

In Jacksonville it's Fred Taylor (228) and Maurice Jones-Drew (208)

In Tennessee it's LenDale White (235) and Chris Johnson (200).

As NFL teams prepar to cut their rosters down to 53, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner is still floating around, hoping to find work. He said Tennessee and New Orleans check in on him.

"I'm still getting phone calls from teams," Dayne told the Badger Beat of the Wisconsin State Journal. "And I'm waiting until the final cuts to see if anyone will bring me in ..."

"There are not many big backs left in the league anymore. A lot of teams are getting away from them."

As Dayne waits, he said he's disappointed in Houston and can't figure out what he did wrong. The divorce was partly getting out from under his contract, partly a shift in philosophy and partly a desire to upgrade.

The Texans are definitely going smaller. A bruiser like Dayne isn't a good fit for the one-cut-and-go scheme they are working under new assistant coach Alex Gibbs. After Green, odds are they'll be looking for touches for Steve Slaton (203) and Chris Taylor (222).

Tennessee likely wants Dayne as a potential backup plan for their big back, White, if he should go down.

Dayne said he understands the label sometimes pinned to him, but disagrees with it.

"On paper, you could say I was a first-round pick who should have done better," said the 11th overall pick of the New York Giants in the 2000 draft. "I don't think I was a bust. I don't feel like I ever got a chance to establish myself."

I expect he'll find another job, though it could take an injury. But he'll be cast as a role player again, and need to make the most of it.