Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: How a Single Call Changed Derrick Henry's Future

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2020

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - JANUARY 11: Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans celebrates with fans after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 11, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Will Newton/Getty Images

Eddie George is still pushing the Titans to big wins, the coaching carousel misses the mark yet again and Antonio Brown's disturbing season continues. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

        

1. The evolution of Derrick Henry from star to supernova

Former linebacker Keith Bulluck, who spent much of a decorated 11-year NFL tenure with the Titans, remembers the moment that changed Derrick Henry's career, and, in turn, the trajectory of the Tennessee franchise.

This story has been told before, but it needs to be told again, because where Henry once was in his career, and where he is now as the Titans head into the AFC Championship Game this weekend, are two completely different places.

It was last season when Henry, mired in a stretch of what would be 13 straight games of running for fewer than 60 yards, reached out to former Titans star running back Eddie George. The latter played seven years in Tennessee, was a four-time Pro Bowler, the 1996 Offensive Rookie of the Year and had his No. 27 retired by the team.

George was a force as a player and, more important, highly respected by everyone in football—then and now.

"Things weren't going well with Derrick in his career at that point," Bulluck, a Titans analyst and former All-Pro said in an interview with B/R. "[Derrick] and Eddie had a talk. I think that talk really resonated with Derrick."

Bulluck and George played together and remain friends, and he explained that what George told Henry changed the arc of the young running back's career.

"Early in his career, Derrick might not have been hitting the hole as hard as he should," Bulluck said. "Eddie told him: 'You're playing for your livelihood. This is a job.'"

Translation: You have to constantly push yourself. If you don't, not only will you fail to reach your potential, but you'll also miss out on the paydays that could come for those who really try.

"I don't think a lot of young guys understand that this is a job," Bulluck said.

Fast-forward to this season, and it seems clear Henry got the message. He ran for a league-best 1,540 yards and added 16 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he's been even better, rumbling for 377 yards against the Patriots and Ravens combined while averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

The Titans' turnaround isn't all because Henry realized his potential and then went beyond it. Yet it's close to that. Once Henry exploded, Tennessee realized it could build its offense around him, and once the team did that, the Titans took off.

George recalled the conversation he had with Henry on The Jim Rome Show last week (via Sports Illustrated):

"I was at the game in London [in 2018]. I was watching it and I saw some plays, specifically in the second quarter, where he kind of turned down a linebacker in the hole and he was taken down easy. He called me the following week, and he said, 'Hey, what do you see?'

"I told him, 'Man, you're too big to be running as soft as you are,' and, 'Use your size to your advantage. You know, you can hit the home run. You're designed to hit the home run, but you've got to be able to be consistent between the tackles, take defenders on and use your size to your advantage.' And, my God, he has just been on fire."

Henry wasn't all that bad before, but after his chat with George, he's become a different player, one who's willing to find another level to his game and another level for his team to reach.

All he needed was a push from a trusted voice.

                 

2. Titans running against the grain

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Henry's emergence comes as a bit of a curveball in today's high-tech passing NFL. But Bulluck, one of the more underrated linebackers of his era, explained why Henry has been able to dominate in such an absurdly physical manner.

"A lot of these defenses now are built to stop four-receiver offenses," Bulluck said. "They're not built to stop this type of big-back offense."

What the Titans have done, in effect, is take the sport back to the 1980s in a time football is designed to be played in a 21st-century style.

In other words, the Titans have brought a bulldozer to a track meet, and teams simply aren't prepared for it.

             

3. Off to the races

We don't often think of the Titans as one of the faster teams in football, like the Chiefs, but they might, in fact, be the fastest in the sport.

Tennessee had the most plays (18) that saw ball-carriers reach at least 20 mph, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Chiefs and 49ers both had 16.

It may sound like a contradiction to say the Titans are the most physical team with Henry but also one of the fastest. It's not.

When their players get into the open field, they fly. Even Henry...after he runs over a few people. It makes for a pretty unstoppable combination.

          

4. Coaching oversight

Brandon Wade/Associated Press

Another NFL head-coach hiring cycle has come and gone, and of the five openings, only one went to a candidate of color—Ron Rivera in Washington. One black assistant coach made it clear when I spoke to him there is mass outrage among fellow black coaches across the league about the fact that not one African American was tabbed.

What can be done about the lack of hirings of people of color? Nothing. Don't fool yourself.

It's up to the owners to change their mentality and the mentality of some front-office people, and until that happens, the problem won't change.

Speech over. Carry on.

           

5. On the outside looking in again

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Recently, I wrote about how teams were saying Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a top choice for franchises in need of head coaches this winter. But he wasn't hired. Why?

One part was timing, as the Panthers and Giants hired coaches before McDaniels had a chance to interview.

The other part was about power.

I'm told by one league source that McDaniels did well in the one interview he had, with the Browns, but he wanted more control of personnel than Cleveland was willing to allow.

One thing I didn't hear was how teams were concerned he'd accept a job and then back out like he did with the Colts. That didn't seem to be an issue.

It is possible McDaniels drove a hard bargain because he has a fallback option that may be better than any job on the market, and that may be to take over in New England if and when Bill Belichick retires.

          

6. Delicious block

It's always a treat to see how one player can block multiple guys with a singular maneuver. With that in mind, enjoy this awesome block from Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher last weekend against the Texans. Inject this into my veins all day and night.

The Kansas City offensive line is one of the more underrated units in football. On this play, it shows.

               

7. Big numbers

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

An email from the NFL speaks to the sport's continued popularity.

• Overall, the 2020 divisional round averaged 33.2 million viewers across four games.

• The entire 2020 playoffs (the wild-card and divisional rounds) are averaging 32 million viewers per contest.

Just in case you missed that: Over 30 million people are watching each NFL playoff game in these United States of 'Merica. There are 329 million people in the whole damn country.

The constantly oversized ratings remain a staple of the NFL and are surprising only in their consistency. It's one of the more stunning stories not just in sports, but in all of television viewership.

             

8. LSU isn't done winning this season

John Amis/Associated Press

LSU won the national championship Monday night, and in a matter of a few months, it could also dominate April's draft.

It's almost a certainty that quarterback Joe Burrow will be the No. 1 overall pick. But then, after that, we might see a slew of his teammates picked throughout the event.

Alabama had 10 players picked in last year's draft, the most of any program. One scout told me he believes LSU could surpass that number. The Tigers, in his opinion, were "one of the most physically talented teams, top to bottom, I've ever seen."

         

9. Intervention needed

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Another disturbing, NSFW video dropped from Antonio Brown this week, this one showing him hurling slurs at the mother of three of his children, Chelsie Kyriss, and police, who arrived at Brown's home to help escort Kyriss and the kids from his property. Brown said in the video that Kyriss was trying to steal one of his cars and became increasingly agitated at both Kyriss and the police.

The video made two things clear:

• It is increasingly apparent the likelihood that Brown will play in the NFL again is low and gets lower every day.

• Whoever is close to him—and he'll listen to (if such people exist)—need to reach him. His career is all but in flames; is his life next?

I wouldn't be stunned if the NFL attempted (but failed) to banish Brown for an entire season. Any lengthy ban like that would most certainly be appealed by the players' union, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the league try.

The NFL is seeing the same thing we are. 

                

10. Get poppin'

Photo courtesy of Getcha Popcorn Ready

I spent about 20 minutes speaking to Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens and his friend, former NFL player Matthew Hatchette, about their podcast that began Tuesday. If my time speaking to them is any indication, this podcast is going to be pretty amazing.

They were funny, opinionated and raw. Owens' shredding of the NFL Network's decision to not put him on its top 100 players list was, in itself, highly entertaining.

The pod, called, not surprisingly, Getcha Popcorn Ready with T.O. and Hatch, is produced by HiStudios and will cover everything from football to entertainment.

It's going to be good. So, yes, bring your popcorn.

                    

 Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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