NASHVILLE – Twenty-five years ago, running back Eddie George and linebacker Ray Lewis both entered the NFL as first-round draft picks.
George became a dominant back for the Oilers/Titans, while Lewis turned into one of the game's most dominant defensive players with the Ravens.
During – and after – their playing careers, the two rivals often talked about the mutual respect they had for one another.
And each admitted they spent their offseasons thinking about the other.
At the Pro Bowl, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard spoke about Titans running back Derrick Henry the same way Lewis has talked about George.
When Leonard trains in the offseason, he said he has No.22 on his mind.
"In the offseason, I think about him," Leonard said of Henry. "When I am working out, (I think): 'What drills am I going to do to make be better to face Derrick Henry, one of the best backs in the league?' I always joke and say he is like a defensive end playing running back. He is a workhorse, and you can see it in the offseason, and you can see it in the fourth quarter. When things get tough, he is breaking a run for 70 yards, and that just goes to show you what type of player he is. It is amazing competing against Derrick."
Leonard, a three-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, said Henry pushes him to be better.
"You face a guy in your division twice a year, someone who totes the ball a lot," Leonard said. "He is a freight train to bring down. So, you have to make sure who you are playing against and how you want to compete against him."
Henry, of course, has been one of the NFL's top running backs over the years. He led the NFL in rushing in 2019 and 2020, and he's been a force since entering the NFL in 2016.
In an interview during Super Bowl week, Henry said he has the same respect for Leonard, who entered the NFL a few years later in 2018.
"That is cool, for him to think that way about me," Henry said of Leonard. "I definitely respect his game, and the type of player he is. You always have to account for him a lot. We play Indy a few times a year. The type of player he is, he is always around the ball, trying to get the ball out. He intercepts the ball, and he makes a bunch of tackles. He is a force to be reckoned with, one of the best defensive players in the league.
"To have that Ray Lewis-Eddie George type of rivalry, we know what that was like. But it's always a privilege to go against a great player like Darius Leonard."