Coach: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis make a potent backfield duo
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Titans coach Mike Vrabel believes Tennessee’s running back duo will be a problem for opponents.
“I would have rather not tackled Derrick, and I would have rather not covered Dion” in the open field, said Vrabel, who played 14 years in the NFL.
Vrabel made it clear that how the Titans divvy up the workload between the running backs will depend on how coaches want to attack each opponent. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner , Henry brings a bruising style while displaying speed in the open field. The 5-foot-8 Lewis is much smaller next to the 6-3 Henry but flits around in open space making defenders miss.
“Man, I thought he was gone that one that he caught, like he was skating,” Henry said of his new teammate. “But that’s Dion. That’s what he does: make people miss. He has quick feet and get him out in space he can be dangerous.”
As a first-year head coach, Vrabel and his new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur have a pair of running backs that together could be the franchise’s best duo since Chris Johnson and LenDale White combined for 2,001 yards in 2008. That season the Titans started 10-0 and finished with a league-best 13-3 record. The Titans’ top two backs in 2009 combined for 2,287 yards with Johnson getting 2,006 himself.
Henry backed up DeMarco Murray the past two seasons, though he led the Titans with 744 yards rushing last year despite starting only two games. He showed off his speed with a 75-yard touchdown run while also taking a pass 66 yards for another TD.
Coming from Alabama where he left as the school’s all-time leading rusher, Henry also has been very much a team player. Looking at Lewis, Henry said he thinks they can be very good together.
“We’re two different styles of back like he’s quick, he has good wiggle,” Henry said. “He’s good out of the backfield catching the ball and I’m downhill physical so I think we complement each other well.”
The Titans signed Lewis to a four-year deal in March after seeing the running back up close in their divisional playoff loss to the Patriots. Lewis ran 15 times for 62 yards and caught nine passes for 79 yards helping New England rout the Titans. For his career, Lewis averages 4.8 yards per carry with 10 TDs rushing, and he has five more TDs averaging 8.1 yards per reception.
Lewis showed off just how elusive he can be in last weekend’s 30-14 exhibition loss to Tampa Bay. He caught both passes thrown to him, taking one 16 yards. Marcus Mariota said Lewis makes it easy on quarterbacks with his body language and how the running back executes his routes.
“It causes a lot of problems for the defense,” Mariota said. “Anytime you can have an advantage, you got to try exploit that as much as you can. Dion provides that for us, and you see once that guy gets the ball in his hands he’s tough to tackle. Any which way that we can find to get him the ball is going to be beneficial for us.”
The Titans hope this running back tandem provides a boost in both the run and pass game. Tennessee slumped to 15th last season with 109.7 yards rushing and ranked just 23rd averaging 224.4 yards passing per game.
Lewis knows exactly what he can do once he gets the ball in the open field.
“They brought me here to make plays in space and be the player I am, so whenever I get the opportunity to (do) that I just got to show my ability and be dependable,” Lewis said.