Last season, the Tennessee Titans went 13-3, largely in part to a new face in Nashville, Chris Johnson. His speedy halfback style was something different from the power back styles of former successful Titan halfbacks like Eddie George, Travis Henry, and even his current teammate, LenDale White.
White shared some spotlight with Johnson; he did run for 15 touchdowns last year, which tied him for third in the NFL behind DeAngelo Williams and Michael Turner, and tied with Brandon Jacobs. However, White mostly took attacks about his weight issues.
At points in the 2008 regular season, White weighed in at over 260 pounds, even more than the New York Giants' halfback, Jacobs.
White also took several criticisms for his rushing average; he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry this year, and took 200 handoffs. This only amounted to 773 yards, and it was very obvious that without Johnson, White was worth very little away from the opponent's red zone.
However, there are many reasons to believe White will be much more effective in 2009.
First off, White seems to have the right goal in mind: win the Super Bowl. "That's my goal; I play this game to win a Super Bowl ring," he said in a recent interview. "I mean, the personal perks that come with it are awesome, but I want us to be champions around here."
He's also stated how he wants competition. "I will never run from competition. I never have, and I never will. You can go ask Reggie Bush (White's teammate back with the USC Trojans in college), you can go get Chris Johnson, ya'll go get anyone in America, I will never run from any competition."
But White's mouth is helping out in more than one way; he's also slimmed down to around 234 pounds, he said in a previous interview. "I'm 234 pounds, and I feel great. I feel like this is my best playing weight, and I feel healthy at this weight. I feel like I'm the fastest and strongest at this weight."
He also went on to say that this is the lightest he's been ever since he joined the Titans back in 2006.
That's not much of a shock; during the infamous 2006 Rose Bowl against the Texas Longhorns, it was reported that he was playing at 252 pounds. This affected his draft stock dramatically.
Some draft scouts had him being selected in the middle of the first round, but he ended up slipping all the way to No. 45 in the second round to Tennessee, who surprisingly took Vince Young in the first round.
One general manager even said, "The guy needed a bra, it was ridiculous. You come to the combine looking like that and you want to be a first round pick? Come on. The guy had obviously been doing nothing."
The one concern about this rapid weight loss is if White will lose some power in exchange for the speed. White had plenty of power, considering he scored 14 touchdowns from inside the red zone (44), and took plenty of beatings on third down (25) and made it out well.
According to Tennessee general manager Mike Reinfeldt, White was faster and had better footwork, but still had his power at the team's scheduled OTA's.
As if all the fat jokes and mockery weren't enough motivation, White is entering a contract season. There were reports that Tennessee was looking to send him along with a few other players to the Arizona Cardinals for the unhappy wide receiver, Anquan Boldin.
This apparently motivated White to lose over 20 pounds. If that motivates White enough to lose 20 pounds, imagine how much being in a contract season and all of the other incentives above will motivate him on the field.
White may be ready, but he better hope it's for the long run. White only scored five touchdowns in the final eight games as opposed to ten in the first eight in the 2008 season. His yards per rush average also fell in the second half from 4.1 to 3.6.
I think it's safe to say he'll be conditioned better than last year.
More good news for LenDale White is that the receiving corps is better in 2009. Nate Washington and Kenny Britt, the two incoming receivers, are better than the two leaving, Justin McCariens and Brandon Jones.
Roll them in with Justin Gage and tight end Bo Scaife and you have a reliable passing game. This should allow White to be even more effective on third down, since defenses will have to account for these four.
White also has the best offensive line in the NFL; his big uglies include Michael Roos, Kevin Mawae, and Jake Scott. Last year, he effectively ran between tackle and guard and even wide left, averaging over four yards a carry on each type of run.
If White gains more speed, his outside game might improve a little, but he'll also be able to take better control of big holes up the middle, where he took most of his 2008 carries.
White has little injury risk; he started sixteen games in 2007 where he was essentially the only halfback the team had since Chris Brown was injured and Chris Henry wasn't good enough.
He played all 16 games last year, and didn't take any reduced production due to an injury. He has yet to have a serious injury during his three year tenure in the NFL. His ball control is improving, since he had five fumbles in the regular season 2007, but only one in regular season 2008.
Does White need more motivation? Probably not, but teammate Johnson gave it to him; he called for the death of smash-n-dash, the duo's nickname last season that even sold t-shirts.
Although it didn't seem to be too serious and that Johnson may have just been having fun, the fact is that Johnson seemed ready to be his own guy now. Considering White's words on competition and his offseason work out, I don't think Johnson is taking as many of White's carries as he may think he is.
2009 is bound to be a good one for LenDale White. Be sure to watch out, because he's motivated and he's in shape, a deadly combination that any athlete can have.