NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ At 36 years old, RB Adrian Peterson isn’t going to be a world-beater for the Tennessee Titans in the absence of injured superstar Derrick Henry.

Peterson won’t replace Henry’s unprecedented production, workload or impact on defenses’ alignment. He may not even come close, considering how otherworldly Henry was for Tennessee during the first eight games of the 2021 season.

“Derrick is a guy that I had as a frontrunner for MVP,” Peterson said. “To sit here and say that one back can replace him, that would be saying a lot.”

What Peterson can do for the Titans, however, is provide them with a player through whom they can continue to execute their offensive identity, and it’s hard to overstate the importance of that.

“WE WILL RUN OUR OFFENSE”

Since the news of Henry’s long-term foot injury, virtually every Titans coach and offensive player has pronounced the need for the team to avoid re-inventing the wheel, schematically, nine weeks into the season.

“We are going to continue to run the ball with whoever is in there. We will run our offense,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “I don’t think anybody wants to sit there and drop back and throw it 45 times a game.”

On the surface, that would appear a difficult goal to achieve, since Henry was such a major part of the Titans’ offense over the first half of the season⏤averaging over 27 carries per game.

The addition of Peterson, though, makes that goal far more practical.

While far from a one-to-one replacement, especially at his age, Peterson is a stylistically similar player to Henry.

He is a big, physical runner who can handle a heavy load. He can make plays both with his burst to the outside and his ability to push the pile up the middle.

“Anytime you’re looking to add somebody when somebody else goes down, you’re hoping to not have to come too far off of your identity,” Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing said.

“With Adrian, I think it’s just a side bonus that he’s had some success in some similar schemes. He is a very talented player to be able to add at this juncture in the season.”

“WE ARE GOING TO BE IN GOOD SHAPE”

 

Peterson will allow the Titans not only to continue playing a hard-nosed, physical brand of offense but also to attack defenses similarly to how they did with Henry.

Ever since Ryan Tannehill took over as the team’s starting quarterback in 2019, the Titans’ offense has been largely predicated on an often explosive running game that sets up very effective play-action shots down the field.

Thanks to the addition of Peterson, that can remain Tennessee’s bread and butter.

And while Peterson won’t be able to match Henry’s elite homerun ability⏤though he certainly would’ve if this signing had occurred 8-10 years ago⏤he will be able to more-than-adequately execute the same types of plays on which Henry was successful.

“Just watching them, you see inside zone, outside zone, of course, ISO, and those are all things that I’ve had success with,” Peterson said.

The Titans don’t need Peterson to reproduce what Henry does for them when healthy. If they did, they would be out of luck.

Henry is a rare talent and, though Peterson also was a rare talent in his heyday, there’s a reason he was on the street and available two months into the season.

Rather, Tennessee merely needs Peterson to rely on his offensive line and be an efficient runner. It will be mission accomplished if he can do that.

“Derrick is extremely talented and has a rare ability, but if we are able to create space upfront and block physically on the outside with our wide receivers, then we are going to be in good shape,” Tannehill said.

Cover image: George Walker IV/The Tennessean