In an period of immediate spotlight movies on social media, an in any other case forgettable 4-yard run went viral. Derrick Henry, the bruising tailback of the Tennessee Titans, was its star: He lured a 200-pound cornerback in shut, grabbed a maintain of his shoulder, and easily shoved him to the bottom. The entire video clip, from begin to end, took just a few seconds.
The truth that the run was negated by offsetting penalties couldn’t have mattered much less. King Henry had humiliated Josh Norman, a former All-Professional, including him to a group of well-known defenders he had destroyed with essentially the most vintage of soccer strikes: the stiff arm.
“You utilize no matter weapons are at your disposal,” mentioned Bobby Ramsay, who in his time because the coach at Yulee Excessive College in Florida helped Henry excellent the stiff arm, which was then put to make use of as Henry set a nationwide highschool file of 12,124 yards speeding. “For some guys, it’s the juke, for different guys, it’s a spin transfer. Derrick’s is the power to make use of his free hand to maintain guys away.”
Norman’s demise is only one of a rising checklist of highlights for Henry over the past three seasons. From a 99-yard run in 2018, to the dominant playoff performances that took Tennessee to the A.F.C. championship sport final season, to his 264-yard efficiency in a Week 6 win over Houston, Henry has made common use of a transfer so old style that it’s immortalized on the Heisman Trophy — which Henry gained for Alabama in 2015.
The scary factor is, Henry doesn’t simply have one stiff-arm approach. He has three.
Ramsay, who now coaches at Mandarin Excessive College in Jacksonville, described one among Henry’s stiff arms as a “social distancing” transfer, the place Henry leaves his lengthy arms stretched out upfront of contact, retaining defenders away. One other is the “it’s time to go to mattress, son” transfer the place a defender makes the error of going for Henry’s waist, solely to have Henry push down on the defender’s helmet, like a father patting his son’s head.
For the Norman play, Henry employed what Ramsay referred to as the “barroom get the heck away from me” transfer. It’s a model of the stiff arm reserved for when a defender is already in proximity, and it isn’t almost as straightforward as Henry makes it look.
Ryan Tannehill, the Titans’ quarterback, noticed the play unfold from just a few yards away, which prompted him to make use of some salty language on the sphere. He marveled at Henry’s power even after his group’s 42-16 win over Buffalo.
“That was in all probability one of many meanest stiff arms I’ve ever seen,” he mentioned. “Little question.”
Henry tossed apart the eye as simply as he dispatched Norman.
“I’ve been doing too many curls,” he mentioned with a smile. “I’ve gotta lay off the arms.”
Jokes apart, the stiff arm, which dates to soccer’s earliest days, has endured, with Jim Brown giving method to Walter Payton and so many others. Gamers like Garrison Hearst and Marshawn Lynch have bowled their approach onto stiff-arm spotlight movies that chew up clicks on YouTube.
Whereas Henry’s bruising model shouldn’t be notably trendy in at the moment’s N.F.L., the stiff arm could be virtually a cheat code for gamers who excellent it. The league’s guidelines enable for a runner to push a defender’s helmet with out being referred to as for a face-mask penalty, supplied the contact is deemed incidental.
Probably the most well-known instance of the transfer might be Ed Smith’s pose on the trophy that bears John Heisman’s title, however few stiff arms within the N.F.L. can match the stakes, and the payoff, of the one thrown by John Riggins within the Tremendous Bowl that adopted the 1982 season.
Together with his Redskins behind by 17-13 within the fourth quarter, Riggins, on 4th-and-1, broke across the left facet and used his proper arm to shed Dolphins cornerback Don McNeal. He then charged 43 yards into the top zone for the go-ahead landing.
Riggins mentioned he didn’t observe the stiff arm or develop any particular methods for it. “Mainly, the whole lot I did was instinctual,” he mentioned in a phone interview. “If somebody was making an attempt to seize you, you attempt to fend them off.”
On his well-known Tremendous Bowl run, Riggins credit his teammates and a little bit of luck. Earlier than the snap, tight finish Clint Didier went in movement to the suitable, then headed again to the left to dam for Riggins. McNeal adopted Didier in each instructions however slipped when he reversed course.
“That’s what saved him a hundredth of a second away from getting a much bigger piece of me,” Riggins mentioned. “It will have been disgrace on me if I didn’t break that deal with.”
Whether or not it’s Riggins or Henry, a very good stiff arm could make a participant stand out in any period. However with groups working so exhausting to emphasise the passing sport, and with smaller extra versatile operating backs in trend, Henry, who embraces his dimension quite than making an attempt to adapt to the model of smaller runners, has change into the final word throwback. Standing 6 ft 3 inches and weighing 247 kilos, he’s the most important beginning operating again within the N.F.L. Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys, who additionally entered the league in 2016, is three inches shorter and 20 kilos lighter. The Kansas Metropolis Chiefs rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire is listed at simply 5 ft 7 inches and weighs 207 kilos.
Along with his uncommon top, Henry has lengthy arms. Measured at 33 inches earlier than the N.F.L. draft in 2016, he has an extended attain than all however three draft-eligible operating backs measured within the final 5 seasons.
That dimension was not at all times seen as a bonus. Ramsay mentioned many recruiters dismissed Henry’s apparent skills in highschool as a result of they felt he was too massive, or “ran tall” in soccer parlance. They have been all searching for operating backs with a decrease middle of gravity.
However Henry is extraordinarily quick for his dimension — he ran 4.54 within the 40-yard sprint — and makes use of his top and power to interrupt tackles and get into the defensive backfield. He averaged 5.1 yards a carry final 12 months, when he ran for a league-leading 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns. This 12 months, he’s averaging 4.8 yards a carry, however can be carrying the ball extra — 24.6 occasions a sport, up from 20.2 occasions a sport final season.
Henry can successfully stiff-arm an opponent with both arm — one more factor that units him aside — and any opponent who decides to go after his legs gained’t discover that a lot simpler.
“You hear individuals say, ‘defenders ought to simply go low,’” mentioned Dave Anderson, a former N.F.L. large receiver and the chief govt of BreakAway Information, an athlete growth firm. “The issue is defenders can’t actually try this when they’re operating full velocity on an angle, within the operating again’s imaginative and prescient and are outweighed by 50 kilos. All of these actually mess with a defender’s timing.”
Anderson equated making an attempt to time a deal with on a participant of Henry’s dimension and velocity to “making an attempt to leap in a automobile going 20 miles per hour.”
None of that is new for Henry, who has used his top, weight and leverage to nice impact since not less than the ninth grade. Ramsay acknowledged that Henry, who was over six ft tall in highschool, was not a slashing runner like Barry Sanders. Due to his top benefit, decreasing his shoulder right into a shorter defender’s chest would have slowed him down. So Ramsay let Henry break tackles along with his bulk and use his velocity to run away from pursuers.
“I’ve been doing it since I used to be a child, since I’ve been taking part in soccer, and it simply got here pure to me as a result of I’ve lengthy arms,” Henry mentioned in September. “In order that’s the very first thing I take advantage of to interrupt a deal with or get away from the defender.”
Within the sport through which he set the nationwide highschool speeding file, Henry carried the ball 58 occasions for 482 yards and 6 touchdowns. That efficiency was typical of a senior 12 months through which he scored 55 touchdowns, at the same time as some defenses put as many as 10 gamers on the road of scrimmage. “There wasn’t any secret what we have been making an attempt to do,” Ramsay mentioned.
There nonetheless isn’t. Whereas Tannehill has proven a capability to stretch the sphere with the passing sport, Tennessee runs its offense by Henry. And irrespective of how a lot groups attempt to regulate, Henry appears to seek out methods to make it work. Henry may have that dominance examined on Sunday, when his 5-0 Titans face the 5-0 Pittsburgh Steelers, a group that options essentially the most environment friendly run protection within the N.F.L. But when there’s a participant who could make issues work towards nearly any protection, it’s Henry.
And as his star continues to rise, Henry can depend amongst his admirers somebody who occurs to be an icon of the Titans franchise from its days because the Houston Oilers, and who thinks Henry doesn’t use the stiff arm almost sufficient.
“How within the hell you don’t use that stiff-arm extra?” Earl Campbell requested Henry throughout a go to with the group final 12 months. “Put that bone on them. Allow them to know you bought it.”