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Derrick Henry vs Texas A&M Film Review: The Importance of Vision & Blocking

A closer look at one of Derrick Henry's 2015 games.

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Derrick Henry is a polarizing running back. That is not a shock to anyone reading this, given the amount of comments Henry articles generate. I had watched quite a lot of his film early in the draft season, only to scrap most of it once the Titans traded for DeMarco Murray. As as result, he's up first on my film breakdowns for this class.

Derrick Henry is obviously a big running back, but he possesses several traits that are useful regardless of height and weight. The first that stand out to me are his vision and awareness. To his advantage, the Alabama offensive line is very good and very well-coached. It is easier to trust the design of a play when the linemen up front are consistently doing their jobs. Still, Henry has to be given credit for pouncing on opportunities.

Let's start with this play:

Pretty simple football here. Henry takes it right up the middle, then cuts back to the right to pick up extra yards. He breaks through a weak arm tackle by a defensive back before crashing into another A&M defender. You can see the beauty of the play a little better from a different angle:

Henry starts in towards the middle but knows where his blockers are supposed to be. This is where trusting the 'Bama linemen comes into play. He could attempt to break to the left here, but the numbers game isn't going to work out well. The center is too far away to pick up the safety coming down to meet him. Besides, the play is designed to create the cut back. Here is a snap shot of what he sees after the handoff (enjoy my wonderful MS Paint skills):

Derrick Henry Cutback

From what I have watched of Henry, he has a solid understanding of blocking schemes, the patience to trust his blocks, and the vision to read them well. This isn't a flashy play, nor is it one that is specific to Henry. There are other backs that can make this run successfully - but not all of them. Its a good introductory play to show some of Henry's strengths.

Next up is a long touchdown run. Henry gets the ball out of shotgun but doesn't have one clear running lane from the start - he actually has several options. There is plenty of open space both to his left and right, given that there are no second level defenders. I wanted to use the replay of this play rather than the live one, but unfortunately you will have to tolerate a very lengthy pause in the play (while the announcers were talking):

It helps that Henry blows right by the safety.

Next we have a play that I really like. Unfortunately you can't use slow-motion on the images in the screen, so I would recommend pausing the play every couple of seconds (you can also click on the image to open the gfycat page, where you can use slo-mo if you prefer).

Henry isn't afraid of to get a little dirty. First he cuts through a tight hole, where a weak arm tackle from a partially blocked defender doesn't bring him down. Then a quick stiff arm to throw off another defensive back. Its the third attempt that finally brings him to the ground. I really like how he weaves in and out of traffic on this play.

The replay does a better job showing Henry's hard work:

Lastly, there is one more play to hammer home the theme of the article. Henry follows the flow of this play to the right initially and his slight patience here is critical. He stretches this play out long enough that he can cut back on the defender, and the tight end is able to seal off the lane. Henry turns up field, picks up speed and breaks free from another tackle.

Let your blockers do their job, find the open space. Repeat.

These GIFs are obviously a very small sample of Derrick Henry's work but the defining traits of vision and awareness pop up all over his film. My goal is to get into some of his weaknesses in a later post as well.

However, its nice to end on a high note, so here is Derrick Henry slicing right past the defender on that last play: