Henry Better Than Murray ... For the Moment

Terry McCormick, Nashville Sports Correspondent

Some Titans fans have been eager for a running back controversy ever since the Tennessee Titans chose Derrick Henry in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

And on the other side is Titans coach Mike Mularkey, who from the moment the Heisman Trophy winner was drafted out of Alabama has gone out of his way to state that DeMarco Murray is the Titans’ featured running back.

After all, Murray had been acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles to be the Titans’ bell cow just a few weeks before Henry was drafted.

Murray did not disappoint, leading the AFC in rushing last year with 1,287 yards and catching 53 passes to boot. For all the fan and fantasy-driven talk of using Henry more, it was clear that Murray was the lead back throughout 2016 and remained that way entering this season. Murray was Batman and Henry was Robin.

Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, a Brentwood Academy alumnus, goes low in an unsuccessful attempt to keep Titans running back Derrick Henry out of the end zone during last week’s Titans win at Jacksonville. Henry scored from 17 yards out on the play and finished the day with a career-high 92 yards rushing. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Still, the second-guessing never really goes away. Perhaps it is because we live in SEC Country, where Henry won his Heisman in 2015. Fans around these parts either cheered for Henry in college as Bama fans or knew full well how he ran roughshod over their own favorite SEC team.

Wisely, though, the Titans and Mularkey have ignored talk that the running back carries should be divvied up differently.

But now, in the wake of their win Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars – in which Henry took the lead role really for the first time as a Titan – the talk is going to swirl even more. And even with the pronouncement that Murray is still the starter when healthy.

Did the Titans turn to Henry to jump-start a run game that had been sluggish through the first six quarters of the season? Well, it did turn out that way, but Mularkey says it was a tight hamstring that turned Murray into a spectator in the second half while Henry was impressive, rolling up a career-best 92 yards, including scoring the Titans’ first touchdown.

In Mularkey’s eyes, it is not a changing of the depth chart, but just the depth at the position in action.

“That’s a position where if you can, similar to Jacksonville having two guys that can run like that, there’s a lot of pounding that go on their bodies, and if you can have depth at that position, we’re fortunate that we have it. That’s part of the reason we drafted Derrick,” Mularkey said.

To those squarely in the Henry camp, that might sound like a convenient excuse to try and ward off any thought of a running back controversy. But it is true that Murray missed time in camp and the preseason with a hamstring issue.

And to be fair, while almost no coach goes out of his way to report on injuries, Mularkey’s track record in Tennessee has been to give an honest answer when asked about injuries and why players who are normally in the game are not in the game.

The good news is the Titans have been pleased with what they have in Henry as an alternative in the run game.

“(Henry) came in and did what he was supposed to do. He ran the ball well. He’s a good player. He got a number of opportunities and took advantage of it,” Mularkey says.

And in the process, probably takes the running back questions to a whole new level going forward, whether the Titans like it or not.

On Monday, Mularkey said the status quo remains: Murray as the starter, though he is now day-to-day with the hamstring.

“I still see it that way,” Mularkey says. “Derrick came in. Both of them played in the first half, and it was a grind to try and run the ball in the first half. And when Derrick took over for DeMarco in the second half, we stayed patient with the run game, and started to hit some holes.”

Mularkey even said Monday that Murray approached the coaching and medical staff about the hamstring.

“He’s a competitor. He wants to be on the field, but he agreed with us, and when he agrees with us, I thought it was a good decision to hold him out,” Mularkey said.

This week in practice and on Sunday against Seattle, lots of eyes will be on both Murray (if healthy) and Henry to see who does what and how often it’s done.

But with Murray off to a slow start and a little banged up, plus Henry filling in nicely on Sunday, the running back controversy in Tennessee that has never really existed until now isn’t going away anytime soon.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com