Tony Pollard addition signifies change for Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The start of the negotiation period of free agency made it clear that the Derrick Henry era was coming to a close with Tennessee Titans.

Instead of re-signing the face of the franchise, they quickly agreed to terms on Monday with former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard.

Moving from Henry to Pollard signifies a shift in offensive philosophy under new coach Brian Callahan.

The days of the ground and pound offense are long gone. But that doesn’t mean Callahan won’t look to run the ball when necessary.

“We still want to be physical,” Callahan said during his introductory press conference in January. “That’s been part of the Titans identity for a long time, and it will continue to be, and we’ll be able to run the ball the way we need to win football games.”

Tennessee’s rushing attack will feature a combination of Pollard and second-year running back Tyjae Spears. Neither back brings the same physical presence that Henry did, but their versatility will allow them to serve a variety of roles in Callahan’s offense.

“You want guys that can carry the ball, you want guys that can protect, and you want guys that can be dynamic out of the backfield,” Callahan said at the combine two weeks ago. “So, you’re getting two and three guys that are contributing more than maybe just one guy all the time.”

Spears finished only five snaps behind Henry last season with 528 offensive snaps while Pollard is coming off a season in which he set a career high with 791 snaps (70.5%) in Dallas. That total will probably come in at around a 50% split with Spears next season like it was when Pollard shared carries with Ezekiel Elliott in 2022. The biggest change will come in the passing game and on third downs.

Tennessee’s personnel packages with Henry on the field made the offense predictable with him being a more bruising back.

Last season, Henry finished second in rushing yards with 1,167 on 280 carries, while Pollard had 1,005 yards (12th) on 252 carries. Pollard also finished third with 819 yards after contact behind only Christian McCaffrey (949 yards) and Henry (926).

Still, Henry was a limitation in the passing game (outside of screens and dump passes) making it more obvious when Tennessee was going to run the ball.

The Titans ranked 28th in third-down conversion percentage (33.4) last season. Look for vast improvement on third downs with both Pollard and Spears being capable pass catchers that offer dual-threat ability out of the backfield or lining up as receivers.

Pollard’s 55 receptions where the highest single season total of his career. However, he averaged a career-low 5.7 yards per catch. Spears averaged 7.4 yards on 52 receptions for Tennessee last year. The interchangeable options will allow Callahan to create favorable matchups with his running backs and leave defenses guessing whether they will run or pass on any given play.

Having pass-catching backs could also alleviate pressure off of second-year quarterback Will Levis now that he’s taken over as the starter.

The ground and pound approach helped the Titans win two AFC South division titles (2020 and 2021) and earn the top seed in the AFC in 2021, but Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk wanted to move toward a more modern approach on offense, which is part of the reason the organization parted ways with Mike Vrabel.

However, the addition of Pollard to team with Spears will give Callahan’s offense a 1-2 punch out of the backfield that helps fill that hunger for change offensively, and though it signifies a new day in Nashville, it could be just what Strunk is looking for.

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