Titans' Derrick Henry is a unique backup, and he's primed for big Year 2

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans running back Derrick Henry galloped down the sideline, awaiting a deep pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota. At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, he seemed out of place on the field. But then Henry outjumped defensive back Curtis Riley to make a great catch.

The crowd watching training camp erupted. Plays such as this one during Thursday's practice have Titans fans and the NFL world curious about what Henry could do with a full workload.

It's hard to realize the totality of Henry until he's up close. Henry is built like a Transformer. His speed and elusiveness surprises spectators. A man that big shouldn't move with that much fluidity.

"We can't sleep on the fact that we're talking about a guy who won the Heisman Trophy. He's special," Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie said. "When you see a big man who can be that smooth and fluid, make those jump cuts, have the eyes to see the hole and the feet to get to it, that's pretty good. He's looked phenomenal so far this summer."

Henry might be the NFL's most talented and unique backup. He has to play the waiting game. It's the hand he was dealt after being drafted in the second round last spring by a Titans team that already has three-time Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray.

"I just gotta be humble and be patient," Henry said, admitting he wasn't happy with his performance as a rookie. "When your time comes, make plays. I always prepare like I'm a starter. Three-down back."

Henry has been the starter for the last two training camp practices as Murray recovers from a minor hamstring injury. The offense still looks explosive with Henry at the forefront and maybe a tad more physically intimidating.

Entering his second year in the Titans offense, Henry said he's "way more comfortable than last year." He also accepted advice after his rookie season to avoid worrying about snap counts. The Titans are pleased.

"He's done a great job running the football, running hard," Mariota said. "He's got a knack of finding the open crease. For someone that big to be agile and hit the hole like that, it's going to help us out."

What would allow Murray and Henry to succeed would also make them a hassle for opposing defenses.

Murray is the slasher who can make something out of the smallest holes and juke a defender out of his shoes. Henry is a north-south runner whose best skill, as Robiskie says, is "when there ain't a hole, he'll make a hole."

The Titans' exotic smash-mouth offense depends on a versatile running game that is effective and punishing late in games. That's when Henry can benefit most from the Titans' multi-back system and heavy-volume rushing attack.

"We have two guys that will put their head in someone's chest every single play if they have to, and they'll also make a mess," left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "We're extremely lucky."

It's no secret that Henry would love to be the guy. He will be in due time. In the meantime, he's buying into the Titans' mantra that they don't need one guy to be a superstar.

"Derrick was the man. 'Bama had a lot of great talent, but he was going to win the game. There's no 'man' here," Robiskie said. "If there's a guy, it's Marcus Mariota. We want to have eight guys who when we get them the ball, they're going to score."

Henry had five rushing touchdowns to go along with 490 rushing yards and a 4.5 yards-per-carry average as a rookie. It's not unrealistic that Henry could come close to doubling his total yards and touchdowns, even as a backup, in 2017.

The Titans already have experimented with using both Henry and Murray on the field at the same time. There is less hesitation putting Henry on the field now that his confidence has grown, and he came to camp in excellent shape.

Defenses will face a rejuvenated, motivated and better Henry in 2017, adding to their growing list of worries when facing the Titans' offense this season.