Now that the dust has settled on Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry and his historic performance Thursday night, a legitimate question needs be asked that may surprise those who casually follow the team.
No, this is not a loaded question, and Titans fans understand the reasoning behind it.
Tennessee’s new coaching staff, specifically head coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, have been slow to embrace Henry as the viable feature back for their scheme.
They were not with the team when Henry was drafted, and have seemingly gone out of their way to let him know he is not one of “their guys” this season.
LaFleur routinely went to Dion Lewis (who is literally half Henry’s size) on short-yardage and goal line situations early in the season. Henry was not called upon in London on Tennessee’s failed 2 point conversion that could have sealed the game, even with two cracks at it, and even with Henry scoring at the goal line earlier in the contest.
And most recently, Henry was overlooked in favor of tight end Luke Stocker on a failed fourth and 1 conversion in Houston on a play that completely swung momentum in the Texans’ favor.
After the game Stocker confessed that he couldn’t even remember the last time he carried the ball in a game…dating back to high school.
And if not for an injury to David Fluellen, the third back on the depth chart, then Henry’s historic night may have never been. LaFleur opted to go with Fluellen over Henry as the team’s primary backup to Lewis in the game against the Patriots…until he went down untouched.
And let’s not forget that, around the time of his demotion, stories started to leak that the Titans were seeking to trade Henry before the deadline this year.
Triple ouch for a player that had a monster day in relief of starter DeMarco Murray in Tennessee’s improbable comeback victory over the Chiefs in last year’s wild card playoff game.
While I am sure that being the odd man out after believing that he would finally get his chance after sitting behind Murray for two years kept him up at night, Henry is not blameless in all of this.
And he himself acknowledged that he lacked aggression when given his opportunities, calling his game trash prior to Thursday night’s explosion.
His 3.5 yards per carry was undeniable proof that something was off.
Having a franchise record-setting performance in front of a national audience was great for Henry, but it could put the organization in a bind if they truly believed that he is not a fit for what they want to do offensively going forward.
And with Henry now on the national radar, with Tennessee in the midst of an intense playoff push, the local and national media hounds will pound Vrabel with questions if Henry returns to his seldom-used role against the Giants next week.
Look no further than the end of the Jaguars game, when the hometown crowd chanted and pleaded for Henry to score what would be a franchise record 5th touchdown when Tennessee was deep in Jacksonville’s territory.
Henry opted for Lewis to check in and “eat”, and the crowd showed their displeasure when Lewis entered the game and failed to score inside the five yard line.
Lewis has remained the starter and feature back the last four games, even with his production slipping in the run game.
Will Vrable and LaFleur succumb to public outcry and give Henry 20 touches going forward? Or will they continue to divvy up the carries equally between their two backs, regardless of how effective Henry is?
Henry holds the cards to that answer. Another solid performance next week would take that question out of the team’s hands.