The Tennessee Titans’ running game struggled mightily in 2017 due to a lack of explosiveness in the backfield. Father time caught up with starter DeMarco Murray, and Derrick Henry was far too often ineffective.
As a result, there was no variety at all in the Titans’ rushing attack. It was power, power, and more power. There was a lot of running into brick walls. It didn’t work well.
In an effort to fix the issue, the Titans signed veteran running back Dion Lewis in free agency. His contract is for $19.8 million over the course of four years, one of the biggest active contracts for running backs in the league.
Lewis immediately made sense as a great fit for the Titans. His strengths as a player are the attributes the Titans lacked in 2017. His weaknesses are traits that they already have a surplus of.
Dion Lewis feels he’s a good fit for Matt LaFleur’s zone running scheme. On his role with the offense: “I’ll do whatever I’m asked.” pic.twitter.com/Ti6KMPLp4j
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) May 1, 2018
Whereas Derrick Henry relies on his towering size and impressive straight-line speed, Lewis relies on his exceptional quickness. His small stature (5’8″, 195) allows him to weave between the tackles, stick his foot in the ground, and make people miss in ways that Henry simply cannot.
During his time with the New England Patriots, Lewis was highly effective as a runner. His best season statistically was last year, when he averaged a whopping 5.0 yards per carry en route to a career-high 896 rushing yards.
Not only is Lewis a productive runner, but he is one of the better receiving backs in the NFL. In 2015, his best statistical season as a receiver, Lewis was targeted 50 times in the passing game and averaged an impressive 10.8 yards per reception.
This skill set could make Lewis the missing link in the Titans offense. He undoubtedly understands that people feel that way, but he expressed to me that he wants to stay as far away as possible from a “prima donna” mentality.
“I’m just going to come in and work hard like I always do and try to carve myself out a role. Whatever the coaches ask of me, that’s what I’ll do.”
It should come as no surprise that Lewis has this head down, hard work mindset. After being selected by the Eagles in the fifth round of the star-studded 2011 NFL Draft, it took him four years to become a regular player. He was cut twice before latching on with the Patriots.
Everything that Lewis now has, he had to work for. That attitude will stick with him for the rest of his career.
— Austin Stanley (@AustinStanley81) June 5, 2018
Lewis also understands that, in order for the Titans offense to be effective, he will have to work in synergy with Henry. That’s not an easy proposition, but it’s one that Lewis plans to have success in.
“There’s always competition, no matter what sport you play or what your spot on the roster is. You always have to compete. [Henry and I] have been working great together, we compete in agility drills and in practice, stuff like that.
We also help each other—we’re both learning a new system at the same time. So we try to help each other and go together.”
In addition to purchasing Lewis’ services, the Titans organization will try to fix their offense with an entirely new system in 2018. They hired Matt LaFleur, a disciple of QB gurus Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, to be the new offensive coordinator and implement his system.
LaFleur’s system is designed around the principle of space. Runners will have space to run, receivers will have space to run routes and create separation, and the quarterback will have space to move around and make decisions.
— Titans Radio (@titansradio) June 5, 2018
Lewis’ skill set seems tailor-made for a system like LaFleur’s, which specifically emphasizes zone running when it comes to the rushing attack. He agrees that he will be a good fit.
“I think I fit pretty well in it. You know, I’ve been in a lot of different schemes in my career so I’m going to try and adjust to whatever the coaches ask me to do.”
As is the case with a majority of the players Jon Robinson acquires, Lewis is a hard-worker who knows that absolutely nothing will be handed to him. That attitude, along with his immense talent, should bring about plenty of success in his tenure with the Titans.
Featured image via Titans Online.