Dion Lewis says he and Derrick Henry can be NFL's best RB duo

Despite their contrasting sizes, Titans running backs Derrick Henry (22) and Dion Lewis both finished in the top-three in yards after contact last season. Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans' top two running backs couldn't look more different to observers. Derrick Henry stands tall at 6-foot-3, weighing an imposing 245 pounds. Newcomer Dion Lewis stands 5-foot-7, but after a few minutes of watching the 190-pound back run through arm tackles, it's clear he's not all that little.

There isn't a more diverse NFL backfield, and the Titans hope what makes them unique will also make them great together.

"I see him every day, so he's not as big as he was the first day," Lewis joked about Henry. "I don't know if I'm growing or he's shrinking."

Whether on the field or in fantasy football, one of the biggest storylines in Tennessee will be how Henry and Lewis split the running back load. They know there will be people who try to pit the two uber-competitive players against one another, because only one can be the starter. They don't believe it will work.

"We both know we're two good backs. We're pushing each other every day. We feel like we can be two of the best running backs in the league," said Lewis, who had 1,110 total yards and 10 total touchdowns in 2017. "We feel like we can be the best duo in the league."

That means they're aiming to surpass the Saints' Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara tandem and the Falcons' Devonta Freeman-Tevin Coleman duo. Early looks at Henry and Lewis during offseason workouts show they might not be blowing smoke.

Though pundits will debate Henry vs. Lewis through the summer and fall, the backs are confident it will be Henry and Lewis, not Henry or Lewis. Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur says he has devised a scheme where both backs will have the opportunity to excel.

"They'll work together fine. I think they both have shown they don't have to be the guy to get 30 carries," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "Those 30-carry-a-game guys, I don't think they exist anymore."

Titans running backs coach Tony Dews added: "I don't view it as a problem. I'm fortunate to be in a situation where you have a group of guys that are all capable of playing well. I'll let coach LaFleur and coach Vrabel figure out the rep count, carry count."

Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner who is entering his third NFL season, will likely be the Week 1 starter for the first time in his career. He was the more effective back for Tennessee in 2017, rushing for a team-high 744 yards and five touchdowns despite taking a back seat to struggling veteran starter DeMarco Murray for much of the season.

For Henry, 2018 was supposed to be his season to own the Titans' backfield alone. But general manager Jon Robinson saw there was room for improvement, so the Titans signed Lewis and have assured a backfield share once again. The Titans aren't paying Lewis $6 million in 2018 to be a "breather" back.

"Until you get the pads on and really get going through the preseason, I look at them as 1A and 1B," LaFleur said last week. "I feel confident in both of those guys. They both bring a little different qualities to what they do. But I think we've got two really good backs that we're excited about."

They are physical backs who require strategic defensive planning by opposing teams. Both finished in the top-three in yards after contact last season.

Henry and Lewis say they have a great relationship, boosted by having neighboring lockers and maintaining frequent conversations on and off the field.

After organized team activities and minicamp practice drills, they can be seen together working on pass protection one-on-one or going over particular routes. There seems to be more of a natural camaraderie compared to the Murray-Henry duo from last season.

The Titans consider Henry a big first- and second-down back who has the ability to occasionally step in on third downs. Lewis is a more versatile player who can be effective on all downs, but will likely see a prominent role as a pass-catcher lined up out of the backfield and as a wide receiver.

Lewis saw a career-high 36 percent of the offensive reps in New England last season. With injury concerns and size limitations, there will likely be a cap on Lewis' workload. But he still could match or even surpass his workload from last season and still leave plenty on the bone for Henry.

Last season, Murray claimed 63 percent of offensive snaps to Henry's 40. A reasonable June estimate for 2018 would be a similar workflow, with Henry getting about 60 percent and Lewis 40 percent.

"We can help each other. We can both eat. We have a lot of confidence in our abilities," Lewis said with a smile. "And we both feel like we have something to prove. When I'm playing hungry and want to prove myself, that's when I'm at my best."