Derrick Henry touched the football plenty at the University of Alabama, especially last year when he rolled up (pardon the pun) 395 carries for the Tide on his way to 2,219 yards and a Heisman Trophy.
Tide coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin were plenty content to hand the football to Henry, let him find a hole and gain big chunks of yardage.
But as Henry has come into the NFL, there is an added dimension to his game that barely existed at Bama. Henry caught a grand total of 17 passes in three years for the Crimson Tide, with 11 of those coming last season when he was the full-time starting running back.
Now, with the Tennessee Titans as a second-round pick, Henry is getting a big dose of pass receiving reps as well, not only out of the backfield but even split wide on occasion. Thus far, Henry has been plenty impressive, even making a one-handed grab on Thursday and looking imposing when catching the ball in space and picking up a head of steam headed downfield.
“I think he’s been impressive, especially with the one-on-ones. He’s a very good route runner. Some of the team work we did and some of the routes that he ran, again I always say, there’s a lot of young guys that everything’s so fast with them, they speed up the process,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “I haven’t seen that with him. He was very patient, getting the depths he was supposed to be, getting at and beating guys that were cover guys. So I’ve been pretty impressed with him.”
Henry attributes some of his smooth transition to the way the Alabama program was run, arguably the closest thing to an NFL-type program in the college ranks.
“Definitely at Alabama, they run the program just like the NFL, like a business-type program. It’s been a smooth transition here, but I’m still learning and still trying to get everything done. It’s been fun since I’ve been here,” Henry said.
The Titans may or may not have known what they were getting in Henry as a pass catcher when they selected him with the last of their three second-round picks in the draft last month. But Mularkey doesn’t seem hesitant to use Henry in the pass game, either in protection or out of the backfield.
“I don’t know how you evaluate that without being able to see it on tape. Just because he didn’t do it doesn’t mean he can’t do it,” Mularkey said. “I think that’s what these opportunities, obviously when you get the pads on, it elevates the evaluation. But what we’re doing and the speed we’re doing it gives you a good vision that he can do the things he wasn’t asked to do at Alabama very much.”
Henry said that he wasn’t worried about catching passes, that he knew it was something he could do.
“They put a lot of emphasis on us pass catching out of the backfield and I’m just trying to make plays whenever my name is called,” he said.