Sitting on the sidelines as he watches another player take his snaps isn’t something Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry is accustomed to doing, but that has been present-day life in a nutshell for the 6-foot-3, 247-pound specimen out of the University of Alabama.
Life in the NFL has been totally different compared to Henry’s days in college. His pedestrian numbers posted so far in the NFL pale in comparison to the record-breaking stats he put up in Alabama. Cue the Miley Cyrus music for this caricature of a wrecking ball that obliterated defensive walls all the way to a Heisman Trophy and a national championship last season.
Henry finished the year with 395 carries for 2,219 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns.
Fast forward to his first year in the NFL, and he has only carried the ball 36 times for 158 yards and zero touchdowns in six weeks. It’s a bit of a strange place to be in for a player as talented as Henry. If he was drafted by a different team, one could make the argument that he would be in contention with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot as one of the leading candidates for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year.
Even with 36 carries, the sample preview of Henry has convinced most football aficionados of his ability to play in the league. He could be a starter for most teams right now. He would be a starter for the Titans, if not for the presence of former NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray.
The veteran running back has the fourth-most rushing yards in the league. Despite appointing Murray as the team’s workhorse, offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie believes it’s only a matter of time before Henry gets his chance to carry the load:
“Derrick’s a young man, and he’s going to play the game for a long time, and he’s going to be an outstanding football player for a long time. But today we’ve got a guy that’s going pretty good for us. We’ve got a guy having a pretty good start and doing some good things. And I think, in my opinion, today Derrick is just kind of sitting back — watch that old man work and let him do his thing. Just watch him work, let him do what he’s doing and just keep learning from him.”
The Titans have an embarrassment of riches with Murray and Henry at the running back. In a league where teams are often an injury away from calamity, the Titans are well-stocked at one of the most injury-prone positions. There is complete confidence throughout the organization that Henry could immediately step in and fill the void if Murray ever went down.
Being on the sidelines gives Henry an opportunity to step back and get a better understanding of an NFL-style offense. At the conclusion of the preseason, Henry told reporters that Murray offers advice and help whenever he needs it, even though they are constantly competing against one another for snaps.
The same comradery between the two still exists a month later. Henry is willing to remain patient and do what needs to be done for the team to succeed.
“You can’t really worry about that,” said Henry. “Like I say, just go out there whenever your name is called and go make a play. Just stay patient, always put the team first, and then everything will take care of itself.”
There is no doubt that Henry’s number will get called for a permanent role one of these days, and it may or may not be with the Titans. He is too talented to collect dust for too long on the sidelines. The day will come when the professional football world gets to see what Henry is truly capable of.
But until then, he’ll watch the game through focused eyes with his helmet clenched tightly at his side, ready to go in at a moment’s notice.