LenDale getting last laugh among 2006 USC standouts
Posted: Monday, October 27, 2008 6:45 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — LenDale White is having the last laugh.
This is the guy overshadowed by Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush at Southern California, the same guy who dropped from a top 15 pick in the 2006 NFL draft into the middle of the second round because of questions about his weight, health and commitment to football.
So guess who’s tied with Bush for the NFL-lead in scoring with eight touchdowns, and has the league’s longest run from scrimmage this season?
None other than the guy often derided for his heft.
“There’s jokes can be said, but so far the only joke is that I have the longest run from scrimmage this year, as big as I am and out of shape as I am,” White said. “It’s amazing. This big, out-of-shape guy ran 80 yards without anyone grabbing him. … People are going to say what they’re going to say. For right now, I am the guy with the longest run from scrimmage.”
Of that USC trio, White is coming off his best game yet as a pro, with Leinart benched in Arizona and Bush, who texted his friend on his big day, out for up to a month after surgery to fix the same kind of knee injury White played through last year.
“I never had to answer anybody. I just needed to produce for my team. Jeff Fisher hired me and brought me to the Titans for a reason,” White said.
White showed exactly why Fisher did that against Kansas City as he scored a career-high three touchdowns, including the 80-yard burst that is Tennessee’s longest since 1983.
He also ran for a career-high 149 yards.
He now has more TDs through six games than he scored in 2007 while starting 16 games and despite having torn meniscus in his left knee.
He finished with more yards (1,110) last season than any of the backs drafted in the first three rounds of 2006, his rookie season.
This season White is splitting the work with rookie Chris Johnson, the first-round pick out of East Carolina who has started five of six games for Tennessee (6-0). White, who shared the nickname “Thunder and Lightning” with Bush in college, responded by making friends with Johnson and coming up with a new nickname: “Smash and Dash.”
“It’s not about being selfish and having your personal goals. Everybody has them, and they want to accomplish them. Me, I want to do everything I can. My personal goal is to do what I can to help win football games,” White said.
The Titans promised in the preseason to split the carries as evenly as possible between White and Johnson. They did well the first three games with White getting only one fewer rushing attempt than Johnson. But White had only 14 carries combined against Minnesota and Baltimore compared to 35 for the rookie.
White, listed at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, started working harder to lose a few extra pounds, including spending some extra sessions after practice. Neither he nor Titans coach Fisher would say how much he has lost. Fisher would only say White is having fun again.
That hasn’t stopped Fisher from having his own fun. He joked that White must have had a salad the night before his 80-yard run and didn’t catch his breath until midnight before getting serious.
“LenDale’s effort last week was very, very impressive,” Fisher said. “He’s had a real good camp, and he’s off to a good start. We got in a couple of ballgames where our numbers and carries and snaps got a little skewed, but we got back on track, and that’s what we hope for is balance between the two.”
Running backs coach Earnest Byner credited the weight loss and strong practice habits going into last week’s 34-10 win at Kansas City for White’s career performance.
“He’s a competitor, and the person he competes most against is LenDale first and foremost. … He wants to be the guy,” Byner said.
White hasn’t complained publicly or in the locker room about his role. Veteran center Kevin Mawae said White has understood his role with Johnson, using that to feed off each other.
“I’ve never been on a team where you have two running backs with such abilities and not have to fight over carries, over who gets the starts,” Mawae said.
For now, Johnson said he is the “Smash” until he can match or top White’s 80-yard TD dash. White insists he’s not trying to match the speedy rookie but just trying to get into the best shape possible after hearing how he’s the short-yardage back in this offense.
“I’ve been in good shape. They weren’t upset when I came in. Everything is fine,” White said. “The thing is I’m trying to lose more weight to get the burst that I have and get the speed I need to have on this level.”
Imagine how far he might go untouched then.