Disaster struck for the Tennessee Titans earlier this week when it was announced that bell-cow running back Derrick Henry suffered a serious foot injury in Sunday's thrilling win over the Indianapolis Colts and will now miss the next 6-10 weeks at minimum. It was an unforeseen occurrence for all involved. Despite suffering the injury, Henry handled his regular workload by carrying the ball an astounding 28 times in the victory. The catastrophic blow forces general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel to pick up the pieces in the wake of losing their running back who has handled more than 93% of the team's carries this season.
The Titans promptly responded to the news by adding future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson and former Texas ball-carrier D'Onta Foreman to their practice squads on Tuesday. It's just a matter of time before both players are elevated to the active roster. Peterson and Foreman will join Jeremy McNichols in Tennessee's new-look three-headed monster. So just how does Tennessee's backfield sort itself out going forward?
Outsiders that are largely unfamiliar with the Titans may expect McNichols to carry the load. After all, McNichols has totaled an impressive 241 yards from scrimmage throughout the first eight games of the season—and that was with Henry receiving his regular boatload of touches. Don't be fooled. McNichols has carried the ball just seven times and isn't considered a between-the-tackles runner in Tennessee's offense. McNichols has a clear-cut defined role on third downs due to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, paired with his expertise in pass protection. Things could change course without Henry, but we don't foresee McNichols being utilized much on early downs.
The 36-year-old Peterson is expected to get a chance to establish himself in the backfield, but the Titans may be (should be) wary of overworking the veteran as he gets himself back into playing shape. Peterson maintains an excellent physical profile despite his advancing age, but hasn't played in an NFL game since January.
That's where the unheralded Foreman comes into play. A third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Foreman actually made six appearances for the Titans in 2020. Throughout that sample size, he handled 22 carries for 95 yards while catching a single touchdown pass. Foreman's familiarity with Tennessee's playbook, personnel, and scheme should get him on the field rather quickly, and even into a possible 50-50 timeshare split with Peterson on early downs.
There will also undoubtedly be heightened expectations placed on the shoulders of the drop-back passing game. Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill began the new campaign in rather slow fashion, but has upped the ante in recent showings. Expect star wide receiver A.J. Brown to receive a ton of work. It could be a positive development, seeing that Brown has exploded in recent weeks by recording an astounding 379 receiving yards and two touchdowns combined in three consecutive victories over the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and Indianapolis Colts. Seven-time Pro-Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones also returned to practice on Wednesday, and the Titans need him to be healthy and available going forward now more than ever.
How Tennessee ushers their way forward without Henry will immediately be tested. The Titans will take a four-game winning streak on the road with them to encounter the Super Bowl-contending Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium under the bright lights of primetime this Sunday. There's no telling how Tennessee's offense will look in Henry's absence. It's a scenario that they've rarely had to envision throughout the years of Henry's dominance. The results will reveal themselves in the coming weeks, but somewhere between 10-12 touches for the pair of Peterson and Foreman, with McNichols maintaining his ever-important role on obvious passing downs seems like the likeliest outcome.