Taylor Lewan's return could be a boon for Derrick Henry, Titans' offense

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When left tackle Taylor Lewan returned to the Tennessee Titans' facility on Monday, his teammates were abuzz -- especially running back Derrick Henry.

"The GOAT! The boy! He's coming back. I can't wait. It'll be good to have him back," Henry said.

Lewan missed the first four games of the season while serving a suspension after he tested positive for the banned substance ostarine in April. He's one of the most prominent personalities in the locker room and brings a lot of energy to the group.

"Anytime you bring back a Pro Bowl-type player, that's going to help," quarterback Marcus Mariota said of Lewan's return. "Just what we've been through these first few hours with him, he's excited ... I think when you bring that type of player into the offense ... it's going to carry over to the other guys as well."

Lewan's return bodes well for the offense -- especially Henry. The running back has had plenty of success in the past running to the Pro Bowl left tackle's side. Last season, Henry carried the ball to the left 68 times for 397 yards (5.8 average). It's a small sample size, but in four games this season, Henry has posted 137 yards on 28 carries when running to the left for a 4.9 average -- almost a full yard less than 2018. While Dennis Kelly filled in admirably for Lewan, expect to see an uptick in Henry's success running the ball with Lewan back.

That could especially be the case when offensive coordinator Arthur Smith dials up outside zone runs. Lewan is one of the most athletic linemen in the NFL. Using his athleticism to get into the alley and block for Henry should create longer runs for Henry.

The passing game should also see some improvement with Lewan back in the lineup. Lewan's pass block win rate was 89.5% last season, ranking 20th among all tackles.

There likely will be changes in the protection and blocking schemes. Lewan won't need many chip blocks or slide protection to help him when he's going against the league's premier pass-rushers. Offensive line coach Keith Carter said that in the past they mostly allowed Lewan to face pass-rushers one-on-one.

The Titans last week shifted to a more quick-hitting offense that focused on Mariota being more decisive and getting the ball out quickly. The quick passing game and improved movement within the pocket kept Mariota from getting sacked in Week 4. This was after Tennessee had given up a league-high 17 sacks through three weeks. The plan should be to continue utilizing quick passes, but Lewan's return should help give Mariota more time to find receivers on longer-developing routes.

Coach Mike Vrabel said he's confident that Lewan is in shape. During his suspension, Lewan trained at Vanderbilt and credited Commodores coach Derek Mason as well as strength coach James Dobson for helping him keep conditioned. Lewan will be up against speedy Bills edge rusher Jerry Hughes this week.

Lewan was looking forward to returning to his football routine. He was one of the first guys in the building on Monday.

"I was stoked, man," Lewan said. "I couldn't really sleep. I love playing football, so just to be a part of something, come in and not do anything more than what my job is. I am excited to be here. Anytime you're put into a situation like this, you have two choices. You can let it beat you up or you can grow from it. I've grown from it and prepared as much as I possibly could for the opportunity coming up on Sunday."