They are both men of girth, RBs packing some extra lbs., so the comparison is a belt-line cinch: Is Tennessee Titans running back LenDale White the next Jerome Bettis?
“I don’t know,” White said with a laugh. “Did ‘The Bus’ ever go 80 yards?”
Close. The retired NFL great tore off a 71-yard run in 1993, his rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams. White -- listed conservatively at 235 pounds -- one-upped that eight days ago, highlighting his three-touchdown performance against Kansas City by going 80 yards untouched through the heart of the Chiefs’ defense.
White, largely overshadowed by offensive stars Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart during their days at USC, is now in a better position than both of them. While Leinart languishes on Arizona’s bench, and Bush nurses a knee injury in New Orleans, White is a key component on the NFL’s only undefeated team.
In a phone interview last week, White said his long run was the product of near-perfect blocking and conceded he never would have guessed that he would go 80 yards before Bush would.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself, but I probably wouldn’t have taken that bet,” said White, a second-round pick whose draft stock tumbled because he let himself get out of shape after his Trojans career ended. “I’m a Reggie Bush fan, that’s my guy, so I probably would have gone with him.”
Although White ran for a career-best 149 yards against the Chiefs, he was outgained by teammate Chris Johnson, who contributed 168 to the Titans’ club-record day of 332 yards rushing.
It’s a safe bet Tennessee will try to control the clock the same way tonight when it plays host to Indianapolis, especially with Colts safety Bob Sanders -- an outstanding run stopper -- hobbled by a knee injury. He did not practice last week and is listed as questionable for tonight’s game.
Impressive as White and Johnson were against the Chiefs, by far the biggest reason the Titans are 6-0 is their smothering defense, which has given up an NFL-best 66 points. Tennessee’s defense came into Week 8 ranked third overall behind Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
The challenge now for the Titans is proving their record isn’t a mirage. Three of their victories came against subpar opponents -- Cincinnati, Houston and Kansas City -- and they’re heading into a tough four-game stretch against the Colts, Green Bay, Chicago and Jacksonville.
That’s not to say the Titans haven’t dealt with adversity this season. They switched quarterbacks after the first game, swapping the inconsistent and emotionally fragile Vince Young for the 35-year-old Kerry Collins.
Months earlier, there was another offensive change. The Titans fired offensive coordinator Norm Chow after three seasons and replaced him with Mike Heimerdinger, who had held the position in Tennessee from 2000 to 2004.
Under the tutelage of Chow, now offensive coordinator at UCLA, Young was named the league’s offensive rookie of the year in 2006. Dangerous as he was as a runner, Young constantly struggled to complete passes, and the numbers reflected that. Tennessee’s offense finished 27th in 2006, and 21st last season.
When it comes to those rankings, the names have changed but the numbers haven’t. Heading into this weekend of games, Tennessee’s offense was again ranked 21st.
“We’re running the same exact stuff, just different verbiage,” White said. “But they’re different people. Coach Chow is a real laid-back guy who expects you to get the job done, and there’s nothing wrong with that. With Coach ‘Dinger, if you don’t get the job done, he’s definitely going to let you know.”
Last week, at least, the Titans’ offense got the job done.
And White came away with the run of his life.
“I took a page out of Randy Moss’ book and I looked up at the Jumbotron to make sure no one was coming,” he told reporters after the game. “And once I saw them gaining, I had to cut to the side to make sure I got into the end zone. Somebody threw beer in my face, but it tasted good.”
Watching from the sideline was Coach Jeff Fisher, who was amazed as anyone that White outran the pack.
“No one thought LenDale was a step away from going the distance,” he said. “He must have had a salad for dinner last night.”
Indianapolis at Tennessee