The Titans rushing attack will have a total different look this season. Gone are the days of Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster sharing the bulk of the carries. For 2016, we'll see a likely split in carries between DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. With the move that they made to go get Jack Conklin, the direction of the offense was clear. The selection of Henry confirmed it. Mike Mularkey is hoping to wear teams down with a physical rushing attack, but who will be the leader out of the backfield?
The obvious answer is DeMarco Murray. From the moment he was acquired he was touted as the "workhorse." The 28 year old back was the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 with Dallas, but turned in his worst season of work with the Eagles last season. He carried the ball nearly 200 times less in 2015 than he did in 2014, working in a multi-back tandem approach.
So what exactly was the issue in Philadelphia? Was it Chip Kelly's system? Was he run down after nearly 400 carries the previous year? It was probably a little bit of both. It was also due in large part to the caliber of the offensive lines that he was running behind. That Dallas front is probably the best in the league, but the Eagles -- much like the Titans -- struggled up front especially on the interior. Much of Murray's 2016 success will hinge on the success of the players in front of him.
The same can be said for the Titans' second round pick Derrick Henry. He comes from a system that is no stranger to pounding the rock. Henry handled 395 carries last season for the Crimson Tide on his way to a Heisman Trophy and a national title. There's virtually no way he'll even come close to that number for the Titans in 2016, but what is a realistic number of carries that we can expect?
It's hard to say, really. I went back and looked at each of Mularkey's stops as a head coach and as an offensive coordinator and the results were pretty one sided. Every stop Mularkey has made he's had his featured back. From Willis McGahee in Buffalo, to Jerome Bettis in Pittsburgh, to Michael Turner in Atlanta -- there's always been one clear guy. There were a couple of seasons that injury forced him to split the carries up more, but it was clear that he didn't buy into the idea of the running back by committee.
All of this to say, I believe Mularkey when he says that DeMarco is the guy this season. I think he's a veteran guy that they can trust to do the little things like pass protect and catch the check-down passes. Having a veteran presence back there with Marcus probably isn't a bad idea, but they spent the 45th pick on Derrick Henry for a reason.
Henry may very well just be fresh legs for most of 2016, but if Murray struggles out of the gates this season, expect the calls for Derrick Henry to get loud very quickly. Henry is a physical freak that actually moves pretty well for being so big. His talent is obvious, and Murray didn't exactly handle sharing carries with grace last season in Philadelphia, so that's something to watch going forward.
I haven't even mentioned David Cobb, Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey or Dexter McCluster. I would guess Cobb has the best shot of sticking around simply because of the fifth round pick that the previous regime spent on him in 2015. McCluster offers you some value in space, but not much else. I would assume that Sankey's time here is finished since rookie Kevin Byard is walking around with his jersey number, while Antonio Andrews' style may just be too similar to Henry's to warrant a spot on the final 53.
If the season doesn't pan out and the Titans are out of the playoff picture by mid-season, it wouldn't shock me at all to see Derrick Henry end up getting the bulk of the workload to finish out the year. That would go against the grain of what Mularkey has done in the past, but he's also never had a highly drafted rookie back on his roster like Henry either. Don't be surprised if Derrick Henry ends up being Mularkey's "workhorse" sooner rather than later.