NASHVILLE – The King is not dead, but the injury to running back Derrick Henry in Sunday's game at Indianapolis has been difficult for everyone to accept.
Henry is having surgery on his right foot on Tuesday, with no timetable for his return.
On Tuesday, Titans running back Tony Dews discussed the loss of Henry, and what the team might do to replace him on the football field after a flurry of roster moves at the position in the last 24 hours.
"He has been through tough times before, and obviously he is a mentally and physically tough guy," Dews said of Henry. "He'll be all right, he's tough. He has a good mindset, and he'll be just fine. Myself, I'll pray for him and his family, and we'll move on from there."
The Titans have no choice but to move on themselves.
On Tuesday, the Titans signed veteran running backs Adrian Peterson and D'Onta Foreman to the team's practice squad, and both are eligible to be called up to the active roster as early as Sunday's game vs the Rams.
Peterson isn't your average practice squad player, of course.
Peterson has earned seven Pro Bowl invitations (2007 – 10, 2012, 2013, 2015), four All-Pro seasons (2008, 2009, 2012, 2015) and was named NFL MVP in 2012. He has led the NFL in rushing three time – 2008, 2012 and 2015 – and is one of eight players in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
And, now he's a Titan.
"He's been a great player throughout his career, and will be a Hall of Famer one day," Dews said of Peterson, who has rushed for 14,820 yards (3,192 carries) and 118 touchdowns over his 14-year NFL career with Minnesota (2007-16), Arizona (2017), New Orleans (2017), Washington (2018-19) and Detroit (2020). "My job is to get him up to speed, and whatever he can do to help the team win, that is my job to figure that out and help him along the way. He'll go out and do what he does best. He's an ultimate pro, and he's done it a long time. We'll just get out on the field and see what we can do."
Asked about realistic expectations for Peterson, Dews said he'll need to see him on the practice field to get an idea of what he can do, and how much he'll play. Peterson rushed for 604 yards and seven touchdowns on 156 carries with the Lions, an average of 3.9 yards per carry, in 2020.
"I can't answer those questions until we get out on the field," Dews said. "Whatever role that is, whether it's carry the ball 15 times, 20 times, or carry it one time, or don't play. … I don't know what that will be until we get out there and practice and find out what we've got."
Foreman (6-1, 236), meanwhile, rejoins the Titans, where he played in six games for the team last season and totaled 22 carries for 95 yards on the ground. Since entering the NFL in 2017, as a third-round selection by Houston, he has played in 17 career games and registered 421 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Foreman spent his first two seasons (2017-18) with Houston.
"He did a good job for us (before), he was able to get in a couple of games for us while he was here," Dews said of Foreman. "So, certainly it helps that he has some familiarity with the offense and what we have been doing, and what we have done. So that will help him. He's a big back, he has some shiftiness, and some physicality to him. He should be able to recall some stuff. But again, until we get on the practice field, he has been away with us for a little bit, until we get on the field and see what it looks like, I'm not sure.
"The bottom line with this new challenge, like anything in life, we are all competitors, and as a coach I am excited to get back on the field and have some of these questions answered for myself. I am really, really excited for this opportunity to go coach some new faces in the room, and see what they can do, and try and figure out a way to help our team continue to win."
The Titans have other options at running back as well, including Jeremy McNichols and fullback/running back Khari Blasingame, who are on the active roster.
The Titans also have running back Dontrell Hilliard, who was signed to the practice squad last week. The Titans waived running back Mekhi Sargent from the practice squad on Tuesday.
"Jeremy is ready," Dews said of McNichols, who has seven carries for 38 yards, along with 21 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown, in 2021. "He taps me on the shoulder every week, and (says), 'You know I'm ready coach.' Jeremy has done an excellent job, and he's been great for our team. He's one of those guys that came in and carved out a role, and he doesn't want to relinquish it. Here's another opportunity for him to step up and help us. … I'm looking forward to seeing him taking advantage of more opportunities."
As for a potential rotation at running back, Dews said: "Obviously it will be somewhat different than what it's been. To what degree, I don't know until we get on the field and see how each of these guys, between Jeremy, D'Onta, Adrian … I don't know how it is going to work out until we get out practicing, or then we get into the game and see how the game is going. I think all of those things will play into how it works out in the end. And, obviously going forward, it could change week to week depending on who is playing well, who is doing a great job. If you can get all three of them playing at a high level, obviously that is better for our team. We'll see what that looks like as we get going."
This week, when the Titans hit the practice field at Saint Thomas Sports Park, Henry won't be out there.
The NFL's leading rusher the past two seasons, who had 937 yards and 10 touchdowns through 10 games, is now focused on getting healthy enough to potentially return. Dews doesn't know if that will happen or not, but he knows this: Henry will be missed for more than just his contributions on the field.
"(I told) Derrick I love him, I'm praying for him, and I'll talk to him when he gets back," Dews said of Henry. "I love him. I love him like he's my own son, and certainly I'll miss him until he gets back here in this room, not just the football, but I'll miss him as a human being, an individual, because he is important to me as a person."