How Eddie George helped Derrick Henry take off for Titans

(Editor's note: This story was originally published on Sept. 12, 2019.)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eddie George hasn't suited up since 2003, but he's still making an impact for the Tennessee Titans. His relationship with running back Derrick Henry helped spark a late 2018 surge that Henry has taken into the new season.

Rewind to midway through last season, and things just weren't working for Henry. He was averaging only 3.25 yards per carry and had reached the end zone just once through the first seven weeks. After a 20-19 loss to the Chargers in which Henry had 12 carries for just 33 yards, he was searching for answers.

Henry texted George -- with whom he first crossed paths when Henry won the Heisman Trophy in 2015 -- to see if they could talk. The ensuing conversation led to Henry adopting a new approach to carrying the football.

"He shot me straight. It was what I needed to hear. He told me I needed to be more physical and finish runs, make the defense pay," Henry said. "He told me I could play better, and I wasn’t playing to my potential. It gave me a different outlook. The mindset, when I talked to Eddie, it was mind over matter. It's either going to be you or me and it ain't going to be me."

The Titans are going to retire the jerseys of both George and QB Steve McNair (who died in 2009) during a halftime ceremony at Sunday's home opener against the Colts. When George played for the Titans from 1996 to 2003, he was one of the most feared running backs to tackle as defenders seemingly bounced off him.

George felt the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry needed to run more like he used to -- with the authority to make defenders pay for trying to tackle him.

"It comes down to you imposing your will on defenders. You are too big not to use that as your strength," George said, according to the team website. "You now have to run as if your career depends on it, because it does. Your career depends on this, so you have to run hard every single play, whether it is one carry or 25 carries. You have to run like it is your last carry because it might be."

Henry finished last season on a tear -- he rushed for 625 yards over five December games -- and the change in mindset played a part. After Henry's heart-to-heart with George, he scored 11 touchdowns. Last week against Cleveland, Henry had 159 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.

George is the same height as Henry but was seven pounds lighter than him during his playing days. Henry described George's running style as "nasty" and smiled when he thought about the way George and former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis used to go at it.

"Man, he didn't give a damn who he was running at," Henry said. "You remember the games with Ray Lewis."

Henry said when he was growing up he looked up to George, who rushed for over 10,000 yards for the Titans. They caught up with each other recently when they filmed the latest "Heisman House" commercial. Henry said he usually dreads the long flight back to Nashville from the West Coast, but it was a lot better since George was on the plane with him. They talked football the whole time.

The two have been compared since Henry was drafted in the second round by the Titans in 2016. While Henry is his own back and doesn't want to be compared with George or anyone else, he is well aware of the Titans fans' love for George.

"I hear his name all of the time, from the time I got drafted. 'Ed-die.' You hear how they say 'Hen-ry' in the stadium, but that all came from him," Henry said. "He's the epitome of what I want to be and how you play the game. Being a big back, having big size, being physical, catching the ball, he was the whole thing. Hopefully, sooner than later he gets into the Hall of Fame."