Titans running back Derrick Henry was a workhorse at the Alabama, but he took a backseat in his rookie season in the NFL. Henry said he learned a lot while playing behind veteran DeMarco Murray, and he wants to be a better player in his second season.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Derrick Henry was the face of Alabama football during his final year at the school.
The hulking running back won a Heisman Trophy, rushing for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns during the Crimson Tide’s national championship season in 2015. Henry averaged 147.9 yards per game that year, on a whopping 395 carries.
So when he arrived in the NFL and took a back-up role with the Titans, it was naturally an adjustment.
Henry admitted as much after practice on Tuesday. But he said he learned from the experience in his first NFL season.
“It was different, coming off the year that I had in college, coming in and being the second guy,” Henry said. “But it was a growth year, an experience year, and it helped me learn a lot and prepared me this year to get better.”Heading into Year Two, Henry is ready to help any way he can in an offense that still has the NFL’s third-leading rusher from a year ago in veteran back DeMarco Murray, and plenty of new weapons at the receiver position.
“I am just trying to get better, and help the team,” Henry said. “Even when I am not the starter, I feel like the starter. You go out here in training camp and try and make plays.
“(My mindset) is to be better than last year in all aspects of my game. I was training, working out hard (this offseason). I just want to try and do everything I can do to be better than I was last year, from running to catching to blocking.”
Henry said he’s also put on more muscle following a rookie season when he rushed for 490 yards on 110 carries for the Titans, with five touchdowns. Henry also caught 13 passes for 137 yards while playing behind Murray.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Henry has looked faster, and Henry said he’s better off from a mental and physical standpoint heading into the season. He said he’s a little heavier than he was a year ago, but said he feels great.
He’s been impressive in camp. Henry got a lot of work with the first team on Tuesday, as the Titans eased Murray’s workload for the day.
“He’s a good player, he’s a very good player,” Mularkey said of Henry. “He came back in tremendous shape.
“I think the familiarity of the offense from this time last year to this time this year, there’s not a lot of thinking. The blocking schemes, and having the same guys blocking for him, there’s a lot of (reasons) why he’s further ahead than he was last year at this time.”Mularkey has said on numerous occasions Murray will continue to be the workhorse back after rushing for 1,287 yards on 293 carries in 2016. But Henry will get opportunities, Mularkey said.
“I think he knows his role here,” Mularkey said of Henry. “He knows we want to get him the football when we can, he understands his role. That’s why he practices the way he practices, that’s why he meets the way he meets. He gets it, he’s a team player. If you don’t practice like you’re a starter you’re going to have a problem when you line up on Sunday, whether it’s starting a game, or coming in on a game, you better practice like you’re a starter.”
Teammates have been impressed with Henry as well.
“Derrick is a great player,” center Ben Jones said. “He works extremely hard, and everybody sees it. He is always training, he is always pushing. When he steps in the huddle, you don’t look at him as a young guy. You want to block for him, and he can do the same thing DeMarco can do with the ball. They are both special, they both do different things, but we are happy to have him.
“He could be a No.1 on most teams, and he will be the No.1 one day.”
For now, Henry plans to keep working hard.
He’ll be ready when his time comes.
He feels like a different player than he did this time last year.
“I know I feel a lot better than last year,” Henry said. “When you are rookie, you are trying to get acclimated, and trying to learn everything and get more experience. This year I feel a whole lot better, second year. So I know the offense pretty well and I’m trying to get better every day.”