Titans duo of Pollard, Spears aiming to be top 5 RBs

Titans return to Broadway for people on the street for 2024 NFL schedule reveal (2:07)

The Titans return to Broadway to reveal their 2024 NFL schedule with the help of people on the street. (2:07)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Over the last eight years, opposing defenses knew exactly what to expect when they faced the Tennessee Titans. It was a given that Tennessee was going to attempt to run the ball relentlessly with perennial Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry leading the way.

Henry moved on to the Baltimore Ravens via free agency in March, and the Titans are planning to deploy second-year running back Tyjae Spears and free agent acquisition Tony Pollard as a one-two punch to carry the load.

Neither Spears (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) nor Pollard (6-foot, 215) are imposing figures like the 6-2, 247-pound Henry, but they're agile enough to be impact players in both the passing and rushing attack. New Titans coach Brian Callahan is installing an offense that will still look to establish the run, but he also expects more out of Pollard and Spears because of their versatility.

"I can't wait to start playing around and using them in different ways because they both do things differently, they're unique," Callahan said Wednesday. "I'm excited about the style that we can run with. We can do a lot of different things."

The similar skillsets make Pollard and Spears more interchangeable and will make the offense less predictable than it was in previous years, when it was clear the Titans would likely run the ball with Henry in the game as opposed to another back.

"On the field we have a lot of similarities," Pollard added. "It's going to be a nice one-two punch."

Callahan feels Spears and Pollard give the Titans an advantage because they can run the full route tree like a wide receiver. He also pointed out how they are natural pass catchers. Spears' short area of quickness stood out to Callahan from the film he watched. Callahan also raved about Pollard's acceleration and explosiveness with the ball in his hands.

The last coaching staff used Spears frequently in the passing game. According to Tru Media, Spears was one of 66 running backs that ran 100 or more routes last season. He was targeted on 23.1% of his routes last season (eighth most).

Spears caught 52 passes, the third most on the Titans last season. Although only one of those receptions was for a touchdown, Spears delivered his share of explosive plays, including a 48-yard catch and run against the Ravens in Week 6.

As for Pollard, he caught 55 passes last season with the Dallas Cowboys. Pollard's 60-yard reception against the Los Angeles Chargers last season is a good example of Pollard's playmaking ability, as he caught a short pass from Dak Prescott two yards beyond the line of scrimmage, broke a tackle and raced down the field before getting tackled at Los Angeles' 16-yard line.

Pollard has been here before, though. Last year he took over for Ezekiel Elliott -- who ranks second behind Henry in rushing yards since 2016, when both rushers entered the league. Pollard responded with 1,005 rushing yards for his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.

This next task could be a much more daunting one given how much Henry drove Tennessee's offense. No team has relied more on one player than the Titans did Henry since 2018 under former coach Mike Vrabel. Henry ranks first in the percentage of touches (39%), scrimmage yards (27%) and offensive touchdowns (33%) over the last six seasons.

Last season Spears became only the second back to carry the ball 100 or more times since Henry became a full-time starter in 2019.

The Titans plan to give Pollard and Spears their fair share of touches; it'll just be by ground and air -- which could be to the benefit for second-year quarterback Will Levis as he enters his first full season as starter.

"Both guys, you don't have to worry about in terms of counting touches in terms of handoffs, running the ball," running backs coach Randy Jordan said. "They can both catch the ball fairly well out of the backfield. So, in that respect, I am not counting touches in terms of rushes. I'm counting, 'Hey, you got 10 rushes, but you also got six catches, and that's a total of 16.' And I think they're getting a really good feel for each other on and off the field."

Spears and Pollard know what's at stake and understand how big of an opportunity it is for them as a tandem. Callahan's plan to feature both is a tempting prize as they go through the process of getting ready for the season.

"We are just pushing each other, trying to make each other better," Spears said Wednesday. "I want to see both of us in the top-5 rushing, top-5 best backs this year."