White finally comfortable as Titans' running back

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- LenDale White had just finished with his best day yet in the NFL when Titans coach Jeff Fisher walked up to the running back with a new challenge.

"As soon as the game was over, he said, 'That's two. We need three.' Each time he tells me, I keep getting a 100. As long as he keeps telling me, we're going to pop another 100 out there," White said.

The running back better known as Reggie Bush's other half at Southern California finally is showing why Tennessee drafted him in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He's had consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, including a career-best 133 yards in last week's 13-9 win over Oakland.

Carolina coach John Fox, who has to defend White on Sunday, called White a big back who pounds a line, hitting holes decisively.

"That's what he brought to the table when he was in college, and I think that's what he's doing in the National Football League," Fox said. "Personally, I didn't have any doubts that he could be able to do that as I watched him, and we spent a lot of time looking at him and evaluating him."

It seems a long time coming for the running back perhaps best known since college as the player whose weight troubles and questions over his commitment to football dropped him from a top-15 pick down to No. 45 overall.

White, who has started every game this season for the Titans (5-2), said he isn't worried about proving anything to critics because of Fisher's faith in his ability.

"He knew what I could do. I finally got the opportunity," White said Wednesday. "A lot of people, they say things, but they don't have an idea of what's going on."

"I don't know if he's giving me the confidence or he wants to see me go out and do it. He's challenging me, and he's put me in a situation where all I can do is go out and perform. As long as he continues to have faith in me, I'm going to go out and perform like that every week."

This is what Fisher and the Titans wanted out of White when they drafted him. Fisher even said they hoped they had drafted a new Steve McNair in Vince Young with White serving as their new Eddie George, the team's all-time rusher.

Based on what White had done at Southern California, Fisher's own alma mater, that made sense. White set the school record in three seasons with 52 rushing touchdowns. He also ranked eighth all-time in Trojans history with 3,159 yards.

White declared for the NFL draft after the Rose Bowl loss to Texas in the national championship game with his mother caring for his ill grandmother.

Once in Tennessee, White struggled with injuries and was a backup to Travis Henry, who rushed for 1,211 yards. White played in 13 games and finished with 61 carries for 244 yards with 14 catches for 60 yards receiving.

Henry was cut in March and signed with Denver. White started the offseason program overweight, so the Titans drafted Chris Henry out of Arizona in the second round, then brought back veteran Chris Brown for insurance.

White, now around 240 pounds, has started each game this season but had been sharing the carries until Brown sprained his left ankle Oct. 14 in Tampa Bay.

Center Kevin Mawae said he thinks White realized he had to step up and carry the load.

"LenDale's done a great job. He's stepped up. He's started running the ball hard, and he's made some tough yardages ... Now he's got two consecutive weeks of 100-yard games. Hopefully we can continue that trend," Mawae said.

White said he feels more comfortable and loves wearing out defenses in the second half. He credited the offensive line with opening big holes.

"They make it a lot easier when you run through the hole, and you've got 5 yards before the first guy gets contact on you," White said.

White has been at his best the past two games. He had a career-high 27 carries for 104 yards in a 38-36 victory at Houston on Oct. 21. He had a career-long 28-yard carry in the fourth quarter and also had a career-high four catches for 22 yards.

Against Oakland, he had 25 carries for 133 yards, ripping off consecutive runs of 27 and 14 yards in the third quarter with the Titans trailing 9-3. Chris Henry came in and scored on the next play, putting the Titans ahead to stay.

This is what Fisher expected from White, and it's coming at a time when defenses are loading up with seven and eight close to the line to stop the run.

"They said, 'You can't run it.' We said, 'We can,' and we did," Fisher said. "Now you're only as good as the next week, so we have to try to re-establish that again."

Just in case someone listening needs added motivation.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.