Derrick Henry focused on helping Titans win, not 1,000 yards
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Unthinkable at the start of December, Derrick Henry has put together the best two-game stretch in franchise history to put himself 118 yards shy of the first 1,000-yard rushing season in his three-year NFL career.
It’s still not a number that the Titans running back and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner is pondering.
“I’m not focused on that,” Henry said Wednesday. “I’m focused on us getting this (win) and us finishing off the week right, going in there prepared and executing the plan and whatever happens happens. And I don’t really focus on 1,000 yards. As long as we get this win, that’s what I’ll be happy with.”
The 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry has turned around not just his season, but cemented his spot on the Tennessee roster. Rumors swirled that the Titans tried to trade him away at the deadline earlier this year, and Henry lost his starting spot to veteran Dion Lewis in November.
Then Henry, who had been running much better since Tennessee’s bye at the end of October, turned in a game for the record books Dec. 6.
Henry tied Tony Dorsett’s NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown run and finished with a franchise-record 238 yards on 17 carries and scored four touchdowns in a 30-9 rout of Jacksonville. That got Henry back in the starting lineup, and he ran a career-high 33 times for 170 yards and two TDs in a 17-0 shutout against the New York Giants.
His 408 yards combined over the two games are the best in team history, topping the 405 yards Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell managed for the then-Houston Oilers in October 1980. Nobody had ever run for six TDs over two games for this franchise before Henry.
Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said he knows Henry was a little frustrated earlier this season.
So what changed? Better blocking and play all around, especially by Henry.
“I just think he’s running with a purpose, running with an attitude, a mindset a mentality that I’m not going down,” LaFleur said.
Three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan says it’s cool to be part of record-setting performances.
“He finds the holes, and he makes those extra guys miss,” Lewan said. “You can’t block them all on every single play. As much as we’d like to take credit, that’s him.”
Now Henry can run for just 59 yards apiece over each of the next two games to reach 1,000 yards for the season, and he gets his first chance Saturday against Washington (7-7). The Redskins have allowed at least 130 yards rushing over each of the past five games.
Henry is very familiar with Washington’s defensive line, having won championships with defensive end Jonathan Allen and rookie nose tackle Daron Payne at Alabama. But the running back, so critical of his own play early this season, insists he’s not worried about reaching 1,000 yards as long as the Titans win.
“For me to be doing this stuff, you have to look at what’s happening around me,” Henry said. “That’s why I always say team because for me to have success and make big plays, everybody looks at what’s going on around me, and those guys are doing their job. I’m just going out there trying to do mine.”
Coach Mike Vrabel called Henry the type of leader who works to improve what he is doing, which has carried over.
“Happy for his success and hope we can get him as many yards as we can get him,” Vrabel said.
Notes: Five Titans did not practice Wednesday: Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (knee), LBs Brian Orakpo (elbow) and Sharif Finch (left shoulder), WR Tajae Sharpe (ankle) and LB Wesley Woodyard (back), added to the injury report after not being listed Tuesday. QB Marcus Mariota (foot) and S Kenny Vaccaro (concussion protocol) practiced fully.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker