TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: RUNNING BACKS
In camp (7): RB Derrick Henry, RB Dontrell Hilliard, RB Jordan Wilkins, RB Trenton Cannon, RB Hassan Haskins, RB Julius Chestnut, FB Tory Carter.
Offseason developments: Henry joined the team for June’s minicamp after training on his own most the offseason. Henry showed up in shape, and he looked completely healed from last season’s foot injury. The Titans signed Cannon, formerly with the 49ers, in free agency, and also re-signed veteran backs Hilliard and Wilkins. The team drafted Haskins, who starred at Michigan, in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, and then signed Chesnut, an undrafted free agent out of Sacred Heart. Earlier in the offseason the Titans released running back Darrynton Evans while opting not to re-sign fullback Khari Blasingame, who was a restricted free agent. Evans and Blasingame ended up signing with the Bears. D’Onta Foreman signed with the Panthers after making a nice contribution in 2021. Jeremy McNichols wasn’t re-signed, and he remains a free agent. Carter took part in the offseason program and he’s in line to be the team’s fullback this fall.
In the spotlight: Henry. The NFL’s rushing leader in 2019 and 2020 saw his season get cut short in 2021 because of the foot injury he suffered in Week 8 at Indianapolis. Now, there’s been plenty of chatter from outsiders about how he’s on the verge of declining. Henry has seen it and heard it, and you can be sure he’s motivated by all of it. Still, it’s fair to wonder what Henry’s workload might look like moving forward. The reality is Henry could have a lot to do with just how many carries he gets and how many snaps he plays based on how he performs. How the Titans fare in games – Are they playing with a lead? Are they trying to catch up? – could also impact his snaps. This much is certain: Henry loves the workload and the volume of carries, and he’s proven to be not very interested in getting a lot of breathers.
Battle to watch: The veterans behind Henry. Hilliard stepped in and stepped up in 2021, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Cannon didn’t get a lot of carries with the 49ers, and the Titans signed him in large part because of his qualifications on special teams. But he has some intriguing skills as a back. Wilkins, formerly with the Colts, has done some nice things in the league, and he’s hoping to find a more permanent home in Tennessee. Chances are the Titans will keep one, maybe two, from this group. I thought Hilliard carried his momentum from last fall into the offseason, and he looked good this spring. He could help on third down because he’s astute as a route runner and can catch the ball in the passing game. The speed element Cannon provides gives him an extra boost to stick as well. The rookie Chesnut is a roster long shot, but he did some nice things in the offseason.
Keep an eye on: Haskins. I was standing next to former Titans running back Eddie George this offseason when he first laid eyes on Haskins, and I can tell you he was impressed. Not only does Haskins look the part from a physical standpoint (6-2, 228), he has good movement skills. At Michigan, he proved to be a very capable runner, as he ran for 1,327 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2021. It’s going to be fun watching Haskins in training camp and in preseason games as he tries to carve out a role for himself as a rookie.
Next up: Offensive line.
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