NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Three Hall of Fame running backs offered three different opinions on the Titans running game. All agreed on one thing: DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry might be one of the NFL's best pairings for years to come.
"It's a great one-two punch,'' said running back Marshall Faulk, an eight-time Pro Bowler who played with the Colts and Rams. "And as long as Derrick Henry continues to push DeMarco, you are going to get that competitive edge, and DeMarco won't become complacent. It is competition, competition at its best. And they are playing for a guy in Mike Mularkey who believes in running the football, and they are built up front to run block, that's what they do.
"You look at their offensive line, it's one of the best in the league. And so is the run game in Tennessee."
The Titans finished third in the NFL in rushing in 2016, averaging 136.7 yards per game.
Murray led the way with 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns, best in the AFC and third overall in the league. Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, ran for 490 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie season.
"Big boys,'' said former Broncos running back Terrell Davis, who was elected into the Hall of Fame during Super Bowl week. "What do they call that? Exotic smashmouth? I like it. They obviously want to wear you down. They want to put the boys in there and hammer the other teams and slow games down where Marcus (Mariota) is throwing at a more limited clip, where he doesn't have to throw it 40 times a game. And that is where they are at their best. I like those backs. I think DeMarco is back in his element where he feels like it suits his style of running. It is downhill running, which he is good at doing.
Former Broncos RB Terrell Davis
"And I think Derrick, he just has to be patient, and his time will come. He knew going in that they had DeMarco, when he got drafted there. He just has to make the best of it, the chances he gets. It's all he can do. And if the coaches see fit that he should be the starter, they can make that decision. But I wouldn't get discouraged, and hopefully he is not."
LaDainian Tomlinson, also elected to the Hall of Fame after rushing for 13,684 yards in the NFL while playing with the Chargers and Jets, believes the Titans will once again be a formidable force running the ball in 2017.
The three Hall of Fame backs made their comments to Titans Online in Houston leading up to Super Bowl LI.
"I think they can be extremely dominant,'' Tomlinson said of the Titans. "The way that team is built with a fabulous offensive line and two physically imposing runners, it is a team that can wear you down, and we saw that last year.
"Everyone wants to be cute nowadays, and throw the football around the park. But at the end of the day you have to be able to run the ball, and they can do that with those backs."
The biggest question in the running game moving forward centers on the division of carries, and how it might be different in 2017, and beyond.
Murray carried the ball 293 times in 2016, compared to Henry's 110 carries. Murray proved to be very valuable in the passing game (53 catches for 377 yards and three touchdown) and in pass protection, which earned him more playing time.
Davis believes Murray should continue to carry the load, but he said Henry has a chance to change his opinion, and the opinions of coaches. Either way, he thinks the Titans have a good thing going.
"It should be mostly DeMarco,'' Davis said. "But when you are a back, results speak. So if Derrick is starting to be even more effective running, and you start seeing his game go to the next level, you might see him getting more carries. But right now DeMarco is holding him off. From what I have seen, DeMarco has not slowed down.
"And hey, a two-back system is not a bad thing. People look at it like it is not good for football. But a part of me wishes I was still in a two-back system. I might still be playing."
TitansOnline.com looks back at RB Derrick Henry's rookie season with Titans in 2016. (AP Photos)
TitansOnline.com looks back at RB DeMarco Murray's 2016 Pro Bowl season. (AP Photos)