Derrick Henry is a man of few words, preferring to work hard with a tunnel-vision focus and let his play do all the talking.
Henry has been almost shouting the way he keeps running into the NFL record books.
Now the NFL’s back-to-back rushing leader has the opportunity in 2021 to add even more history to what’s been an amazing couple years. Fresh off becoming just the eighth man to run for at least 2,000 yards, Henry now has a 17th game giving him a chance at Eric Dickerson’s league record of 2,105 yards set in 1984.
Henry also could become the first man – fifth all-time – to lead the NFL in rushing in three consecutive seasons in nearly three decades. Emmitt Smith was the last with his three-peat coming between 1991 and 1993.
“I don’t get caught up in that,” Henry said. “I just focus on me getting better. I say it a lot. That’s all I focus on. Just getting better every day. Working hard, putting in the work and competing. That’s all you can do. Let everything else take care of itself.”
The 2020 NFL Offensive Player of the Year and All-Pro certainly has done that better than anyone in the NFL the past two seasons. No one has more carries than Henry’s 782 combined rushes in the regular season and playoffs. When he ran for 2,027 yards last season, it was the fifth-best single-season total.
Henry, who averaged 126 yards a game, could become only the second in NFL history to lead the league in rushing yards, attempts and rushing touchdowns for a third straight season. Steve Van Buren did it 1947-49.
Only four other men have led the NFL in rushing at least three straight seasons. Before Smith, Earl Campbell did it between 1978-1980, Jim Brown between 1958 and 1961 and Van Buren.
The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama also is the NFL’s first running back with at least two seasons of at least 300 rushing attempts, 15 TD runs and a five-yard rushing average.
Ryan Tannehill has had an up-close view since becoming the Titans’ starting quarterback in October, 2019, and he says it’s impressive to see the running back’s sustained success and dependability at the 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds Henry is listed by the Titans.
How Henry physically withstands all the hits and carries yet keeps plugging away? Tannehill calls it “wild.”
“You talk to him on Monday and Tuesday, and he is, ‘Oh, I am not sore. I am good,’” Tannehill said. “Think some of that is God’s gift to him, of just being a physical freak and being 6-3 and 250 or whatever he is. He has the attitude, the mindset, and he loves playing football. You put all that together, and it is a good package.”
Running backs coach Tony Dew has had similar conversations, only to hear Henry say he’s good.
“Now whether he is or he isn’t, just his mentality he’s not going to tell you he isn’t,” Dew said. “He’s going to come out and do whatever everyone else does. That’s the one thing I do really admire about him and so many others is that he just comes to work and he does whatever coach ask him to do.”
The Titans have tried, and keep trying, to find a backup to ease some of Henry’s workload knowing that such a workload can shorten a running back’s career. Yet Henry is the man that is available each Sunday – and coming through with big moments.
He became the first in NFL history to score two touchdowns in overtime in 2020. He outrushed 23 of the NFL’s 31 other teams. He had three games with 200 yards and two touchdowns, setting a franchise record with 250 yards in the regular-season finale.
Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel, whose NFL career lasted 14 years, has always admired Henry’s work ethic and how the running back sticks to his workout routine throughout the season for both conditioning and lifting.
“As soon as practice is over, he is in there on Friday doing whatever he needs to do to get himself mentally and physically prepared for the game,” Vrabel said.
Henry also works hard throughout the offseason, starting preparations for the next season sometimes only days after the last ended. He works with his trainer, who usually does some of the seemingly impossible workouts first.
Others watch those videos in amazement. Henry? He’s just working. Of course.
“It can get crazy at times, but I’m really just working out man,” Henry said. “And people always asking me to send them workouts. So I post them so you ain’t got no excuse not to work out. It’s right there on Instagram. So whatever you see me do you can implement into your workout and get better.”
Balancing using a band and exercise ball doing pushups with a heavy chain around the neck isn’t for everyone. Tannehill did his own version for social media in homage to Henry, using his wife’s purse instead of a chain.
Henry says he isn’t able to do all the workouts his trainer comes up with.
“Standing on his head and doing a flip? I’m not doing all that,” Henry said. “I’m not getting ready for karate or Avenger movies. I’m just trying to get ready for football.”
What Henry’s done has worked pretty well so far.