Derrick Henry generated one of the most improbable 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2018.
Through the first 12 games of the year, the bulldozing Tennessee Titans running back had a middling 474 rushing yards on 128 attempts, a 3.7 yards per carry average. Those numbers put Henry on pace for 631.5 yards on the season (39.47 yards per game on 10.67 carries per tilt). He was held to under 60 rushing yards in each of the first 12 tilts, with six contests below 35 yards.
Then the running back stiff-armed the Jacksonville Jaguars into oblivion in Week 14 in a 238-yard, four-touchdown performance, setting up a four-game stretch in which Henry galloped for 585 yards on 87 carries (6.72 YPC). The otherworldly streak sneaked Henry over the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career at 1,059 yards. The 25-year-old second-round pick also scored seven of his 12 TDs in the final four weeks of the 2018 campaign.
After getting 15-plus carries just twice in the first 12 games, former Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur called Henry's number more than 16 times in every game down the stretch (including a 33-tote performance in Week 15).
Tennessee's new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith plans to keep the Henry train rolling.
"Derrick will be a big part of the offense," Smith said, via Turron Davenport of ESPN. "He has a rare skill set. Derrick's a home-run hitter. We are taking another step hopefully with him. What he did over the last five weeks will open up a lot of things.
"Zone (run scheme) is a great starting point for us, but there are a lot of schemes that fit Derrick and fit Dion [Lewis], or whoever else will be on our roster that we will hand the ball [to]. Gaps, pin and pulls, zone reads, but there's a certain mentality that we want to play with coming off the football. We want to be physical and knock people back."
When Smith was promoted from tight ends coach to play-caller, Tennessee eyed continuity for quarterback Marcus Mariota. That permanency should also extend to Henry.
While LaFluer seemed to stumble onto the formula with Henry late in the season, Smith will look to feed the beastly back out of the gate. Henry proved he's the type of road-grading runner that can flatten defenses deep in games the more touches he receives.
To be a true No. 1 back, Smith wants Henry to bring his nasty assets to the rest of the offense.
"Physical isn't just in the run game," Smith said. "You can be physical in protection, how you catch the football and finish that. Are you going to go down the field and finish?"
Utilizing Henry consistently early in the season should help open the Titans offense, particularly the play-action pass for Mariota, which is something Tennessee should rely heavily on in 2019.