New Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is in a position to help running back Derrick Henry continue to succeed moving forward.
Last season, Henry had a rather rough start. In six out of the Titans’ first seven games of the season, he averaged less than 3.2 yards-per-carry.
Through Week 13, Henry had totaled just 474 rushing yards, an average of less than 40 per game. The lack of production was alarming, especially from a player that many thought would be a crucial component to the Titans offense.
Then, Henry exploded. Against the Jaguars in Week 14, a game that featured Henry notching one of two 99-yard touchdown runs in the history of the NFL, he averaged 14 YPC en route to a 238 rushing yards performance.
Arthur Smith on his plans with RB Derrick Henry going forward: pic.twitter.com/lIQAvKIyGS
— Titans Radio (@titansradio) February 5, 2019
For the remainder of the Titans’ season, Henry was a force to be reckoned with. He became a true bell-cow back, and the offense ran straight through him. Where Henry went, the Titans went, also.
The massive shift in productivity for Henry has caused just about everyone with some sort of association with the Titans to question why it took so long for him to get going. Did he just need more carries the whole time? Was there an issue with not understanding the offense?
Regardless of the reason behind the change, Henry needs to keep it going into next season. It’s something the young running back hopes to be able to do.
“I will definitely use the momentum in the offseason to get better,” Henry said after the season, “and focus on the things I need to get better at and get ready for when we come back in here, I am just going to focus on getting better this offseason train like I always have.”
Henry’s new offensive coordinator seems to be equipped to get him where he wants to go. In his introductory press conference with the Nashville media, Arthur Smith spoke very highly of Henry.
“Derrick is going to be a big part of our offense,” Smith said. “Derrick has got a rare skill set, he’s one of the few guys that – he’s a home run hitter. Obviously, as I said, we’re taking another step hopefully with him. What he did the last five weeks will open up a lot of things, and hopefully, again, to improve what he did. But, Derrick will be a big part of the offense.”
Smith continued to explain the type of blocking scheme he envisions the Titans utilizing in 2019. “There’s a lot of schemes that fit Derrick, that fit Dion [Lewis], that fit David Fluellen, or whoever else is going to be on our roster we’re going to hand the ball to. Whether you’re running zone, gaps, pin-pulls, doesn’t matter, zone reads, there’s a certain mentality we want to play with coming off the football.
“We want to be physical and knock people back. That’s not necessarily saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to only run gap schemes, we’re only going to run zone schemes.’ We’re going to try to give us an advantage.”
Derrick Henry, a 99-yard GROWN MAN run
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 7, 2018
Based off of the things he said at the podium on Monday, Smith seems to have a great understanding of the type of player that Henry is and can be. That will be a big help when it comes to scheming and correctly utilizing him.
Henry has proven time and time again that he is not, despite his size, a traditional “power” running back. He is not going to bang through the line 10-15 times a game and pick up “tough yardage.”
Rather, Henry is a long-strider who thrives in the open field. As Smith described him, he is a “home run hitter,” and he is at his best when things are open and he can hit that open space at full speed.
When things start to get clogged up, Henry becomes a less productive player. That has repeatedly been shown to be the case, and no amount of “volume” will change the type of player that Henry is.
Smith’s plan to commit to Henry as a central component to the offense will be crucial for the running game to have success, but equally as crucial will be the types of plays and situations that he designs.
Thus far, it looks like Smith has the right ideas in that regard.
Cover image: Kirby Lee & Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today