Heisman winner Derrick Henry now patient backup with Titans
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie promised Derrick Henry he would touch the ball more as an NFL rookie than the running back did as a freshman back in college at Alabama.
Robiskie delivered, actually doubling up on the workload Henry had his first year in college with four games left.
It’s just nowhere near what any NFL running back really wants.
A year after winning the Heisman Trophy, Henry is honing his patience with the Titans, backing up the NFL’s second-leading rusher in DeMarco Murray. The man who led Alabama to a national title while setting the Southeastern Conference rushing mark running for 2,219 yards has had five games as a pro with five or fewer carries.
“As a competitor, it’s always going to be tough,” Henry said. “But you just got to be patient like everybody says.”
The Titans’ decision to draft Henry with the 45th pick overall was a surprising move considering Tennessee traded for Murray in March. The 2014 NFL offensive player of the year with 1,845 yards rushing, Murray slumped with just 702 yards with Philadelphia last season. Drafting Henry gave them insurance at a position where they struggled mightily the past two seasons.
The original plan was using Henry to give Murray a break and mix them both up.
Turns out Murray really hasn’t needed a breather much this season, never carrying more than 27 times in a game. Murray now has 1,043 yards on 229 carries and is averaging 4.6 yards per rush with eight touchdowns. Against Green Bay, Henry carried only nine times because Robiskie said the Titans thought Murray would break off another big run after going 75 yards on his first touch.
Robiskie said Henry just has to wait for his time.
“Derrick’s going to be a good player,” Robiskie said recently. “I think he’s going to be a good player for this organization for a long time. The best thing to me is he’s sitting there watching a pro ... how to work during the week, how to take care of your body during the week, how to get stronger as the season gets longer ... When he gets in, he’ll be ready.”
So far, Henry has 70 carries for 312 yards with two touchdowns. His best game came Oct. 27 when he carried a career-best 16 times for 60 yards. Henry has shown off his hands catching nine passes for 107 yards. It’s a workload that’s far different from last year when he carried 395 times and ran for 28 touchdowns.
Henry, whose locker is two down from Murray’s, is trying to learn as much as he can. His biggest lesson yet? Work every day in meetings and in practice.
“Always be about business and come prepared to work and work hard,” Henry said.
Murray believes learning how to work in the NFL from veterans is beneficial to any young player. His role models in Dallas included Tony Romo and other veterans, but Murray only had his freshman season at Oklahoma to watch and learn how Adrian Peterson handled himself on and off the field.
“I would hope he’s taking full advantage of all his resources,” Murray said.
Combined, Murray and Henry have the Titans (6-6) third in the NFL averaging 141.5 yards per game. Both could get plenty of work Sunday against a Denver defense ranked 28th in the league, giving up 122.8 yards.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey said they’ve tried to use Henry more. But Mularkey refuses to force the issue when only Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas has more yards rushing than Murray.
“We’ve got a pretty good back. He’s one of the leaders in the NFL in rushing,” Mularkey said. “I’m not going to change something good to appease anybody.”
So the Heisman winner has to be patient, prepare and stay ready until his number is called.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker