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Titans hope new fullback helps RB Derrick Henry bust loose

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The 2018 season was supposed to be a big year for Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry. He was expected to be Tennessee's power back, complemented by newcomer Dion Lewis, a speedy pass-catcher.

So far, Henry has just 273 rushing yards on 84 carries with one TD and is averaging a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry. Lewis has caught 29 passes for 199 yards and rushed 73 times for 277 yards and one TD.

It isn't the production the Titans were hoping for from their backfield, but help is on the way in the form of fullback Jalston Fowler.

Henry seemed to be in a much better place when speaking to the media recently, which isn't a coincidence considering how close he is to Fowler, his former Alabama backfield mate.

"It's good to have him around. We are like brothers," Henry said.

Now Fowler lives with Henry. Although Henry welcomes back his former teammate, not everyone in the house likes it. Henry's Rottweiler, Nino, tried to bite Fowler the first time Fowler came to the house.

Henry acknowledged that the name "Nino" is a reference to the 1991 hit movie "New Jack City." The lead character, Nino Brown, kept Rottweilers around for protection. One of the popular sayings from the movie was, "I am my brother's keeper."

Fowler is taking on the responsibility of being Henry's keeper.

"I told him to get ready for when I come back, because we are going to get this thing going," Fowler said. "That's all we've been talking about."

Henry pointed to Fowler's time as a lead blocker for him when he first got to Alabama.

"He's a physical player," Henry said. "He's been that way since college. He's going to work hard and do his job to the best of his ability. I felt like if we needed somebody who would block and put their body on the line, they'd go out there and find him. They brought him back, and it happened the way it should have happened."

Fowler is excited about playing in the Titans offense because blocking in a zone scheme is easier than blocking a man. There's also a lot of carryover of concepts from when he played for the Atlanta Falcons.

The Titans have to find balance on offense. Running the ball might not produce instant results, but they need to work to establish the run, then stick to it. That doesn't mean they need to run it 30 times per game, but the threat has to be there.

Having a fullback allows the Titans to stick to the running game and run similar plays with a little different look.

"Whether you have a lead blocker that's kind of 2 or 3 yards in front of you, or you move him up on the end of the line of scrimmage, a lot of those things we look at as the same kind of plays," coach Mike Vrabel said. "We'll continue to study where [Henry's] at with a lead blocker, and how we feel like that gives us a chance."

They have to keep hammering at it and wear teams down with a big back like Henry, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds. The shorter gains tend to become longer gains as defenses tire. That's especially the case with Henry, who has the speed to occasionally break off long runs. That doesn't happen unless there's a commitment to running the ball.

The opportunity to take shots down the field with play-action passes will also increase if Tennessee can establish a running game. It will get linebackers to start cheating up and open up passing lanes on crossing routes.

Henry showed how the future could look for Tennessee when he carried the ball 23 times for 156 yards and a touchdown when helping push the Titans to a 22-21 playoff win against the Kansas City Chiefs last season. It has been frustrating for him in 2018 because he wanted to take the next step.

"The frustration is because you want to do so much more," he said. "You want to help the team get the running game going. ... There's a lot of things I can get better at as far as my footwork, being quicker, getting in and out of the hole, getting north and south. I have to finish runs.

"During camp, I said I wanted to be an elite back, but I feel I haven't done that. I just have to start fast and be consistent in everything I do. I have to be efficient and finish runs, run physical. I just have to run better."