NASHVILLE, Tenn. — How valuable is RB Derrick Henry to the Titans offense?

TE Jonnu Smith was nearly at a loss for words when I asked him that question following Friday’s practice.

“I can’t even put it into words, man,” he said. “The guy is an absolute monster, an absolute truck with the ball in his hands. I’m sure defenses don’t want to be tackling him all day.”

Heading into the Titans’ final game of the season, a “win-and-in” matchup with the Texans, their “truck” should be close to 100% health. That comes thanks to how the Titans handled Henry last week, a decision that could yield big-time dividends.

A WISE DECISION


Following a few weeks in which he was a regular on the injury report with a hamstring issue, the Titans made an “organizational decision” to rest Henry in their Week 16 tilt with the Saints, a game that had close to zero impact on the team’s playoff hopes.

“Anytime you got time to rest, it always helps a lot,” said Henry, who was not listed on the Titans’ final injury report of this week. “I’m rested, I’m supposed to be ready.”

It’s clear that Henry appreciated the Titans’ decision, and he should. It was the right one.

Had Henry’s existing injury worsened in a meaningless game, it would be fair to question the decision making of the Titans and head coach Mike Vrabel.

GETTING HENRY BACK

Now, they have a legitimate hope of getting a version of Henry that’s pretty close to 100%. That’s something the Titans desperately need.

“He’s a leader for this team,” receiver Corey Davis said. “We love having him. He’s a good dude, a great player.”

While the Titans offense certainly did not look completely hopeless in Henry’s absence, mostly thanks to how well QB Ryan Tannehill played, the unit didn’t really look good, either.

That’s because Henry is the primary driving force of the Titans offense. The team has yet to lose a game this season when Henry runs for at least 90 yards.

He not only makes plays on his own, but Henry makes his teammates’ jobs easier, too.

When he’s in a groove and constantly punishing a defense, they creep up. That gives Tannehill and the Titans’ receivers much more room over the top.

“Of course they’re going to stack the box trying to stop the run,” guard Rodger Saffold said. “That’s why the play-action has been so important for us over the last few weeks.”

BETTER WITH AGE


Henry wasn’t always quite this valuable, though.

In his first two years in the league, he was a backup to DeMarco Murray. For the first half of his third year, Henry struggled to such a degree that he once used the word “trash” to describe his play while talking to reporters.

Since then, things have changed drastically.

Whether you want to credit Henry’s famed phone conversation with Eddie George, the experience he’s gained, film study or anything else, it’s undeniable that Henry has improved drastically.

“I think he’s understanding the entire offense,” Vrabel said. “He’s improving there.

“He’s able to, I would say, run multiple schemes, whether it be gap schemes, zone schemes, wide zone. That’s something I feel like he’s improved at.”

“Derrick is a unique player,” offensive coordinator Arthur Smith said. “He’s just different. I haven’t seen many guys who are built like him or who run like him.”

Assuming Henry is actually healthy this week—Vrabel said he looked “great” at practice this week—Smith and the rest of the Titans coaching staff need to lean on him.

When they’ve done that in previous games this season, Henry has rewarded them.

MORE on Henry: Why Derrick Henry is an Irreplaceable Commodity

Cover image: Jim Brown/USA Today


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