NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Derrick Henry went looking for answers when his game was struggling earlier this season.
So he called on a former Titan: Eddie George.
From one Titans running back and Heisman Trophy winner to another, Henry received some tough love – and advice.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“He’s a great dude, a great mentor, and a guy I look up to,” Henry said of George on Wednesday. “So I texted him, and asked if I could give him a call to get some advice. We had a conversation about this year, and I asked him what I needed to do, and what he thought about how I was playing. He gave his opinion, and kept it real with me.
“He shot me straight, and told me I needed to finish runs, that I needed to be more physical, and make the defense pay. He told me I wasn’t playing to my potential, and I could play better. That’s the stuff I needed to hear. It gave me a different outlook moving forward.”
The conversation took place after the team’s game vs. the Chargers, which preceded the bye week, when Henry was averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. In the first seven weeks of the season, Henry had just 273 yards and one touchdown on 84 carries.
Since, Henry has exploded. He's averaged 6.5 yards per carry while racking up 609 yards and nine touchdowns on 94 carries in the seven games since the bye. Henry now has 882 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season, and he’s racked up a franchise-record 408 yards in the past two games.
George, who ran for 10,009 yards while playing from 1996-2003 with the Titans, later Wednesday recalled the conversation he had with Henry.
“He asked me flat-out what I thought about his game,” George said. “And I was very honest. I said, look, it’s not about you hitting the home run. We know you can hit the home run. It’s what you can do consistently between the tackles, and it comes down to one fundamental thing. It comes down to you imposing your will on defenders. You are too big not to use that as your strength. You have to force guys to tackle you. Make one cut and go.”
George told Henry his legs appeared “to go dead after contact” and he needed to keep them moving.
George gave Henry a specific example from the team’s game against the Chargers in London, which George attended. It was a second quarter play, an off tackle play to the left, when George felt Henry turned contact down against a Chargers defender, despite having a big size advantage. From one big back to the other, George hammered Henry about it.
“I’m like: There was an opportunity for you to square him up and run through him and impose your will on him, and one of a few things were going to happen. You were either going to run him over, or you were going to hurt him, or you were going to run through the tackle,” George said. “And that sets a tone when you do that, and it establishes who you are and what you are going to be about. I felt like there was an opportunity lost for you to do that.”
Then George was even more frank when Henry, a friend in his eyes.
The two players have spent time together at various events, and when George has stopped by practices. Henry has visited George's house in Nashville on numerous occasions.
“I said to him: You now have to run as if your career depends on it, because it does,” George told Henry. “The rumors of them trying to trade you, that says that they are looking elsewhere. And that’s why the bulk of the carries were going to Dion Lewis. And I said: Your career depends on this, so you have to run hard every single play, whether it is one carry, or 25 carries. You have to run like it is your last carry, because it might be. And from that point on, it seems like he’s been more determined. My God, this guy has taken off.”
George made it clear Henry deserves all the credit for his success.
He talked about how hard he’s worked, and his commitment to the game.
George said he was simply giving a friend advice, and he wants to help him.
“I’m going to give him everything I know,” George said of Henry, who's in his third NFL season. “Of course I am not going to sit here and say my words inspired him. I think he was inspired from the beginning, and he just needed to hear it from somebody straight to get some guidance and wisdom. So kudos to him for being open to constructive criticism.”
Henry made it clear how much he appreciates it.
“Listening to that guy, he is a legend in my eyes,” Henry said of George. “Any advice I can take from him, I am definitely going to listen and try and correct myself. For him to take time out for me, I really appreciate it. I know he has a family.
“But what he told me, it definitely helped me.”
Titans running back Derrick Henry carries 17 times for a franchise-record 238 yards and four touchdowns in Tennessee's 30-9 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday Night Football. (AP Photos)