HONOLULU -- For a team that gave its star running back a massive contract extension before last season, and in March matched an offer sheet to re-sign his backup, the Los Angeles Rams made another relatively significant investment in April when they selected running back Darrell Henderson in the third round of the NFL draft.
Henderson boasted the credentials -- he finished second nationally in rushing yards playing at Memphis -- and the Rams had a need.
Todd Gurley, who had received a guaranteed $45 million, finished the season on a down note, a left-knee issue sidelining him for two regular-season games and slowing him for most of the playoffs. That made re-signing Malcolm Brown for a guaranteed $2.1 million a top priority.
The Rams, without a first-round pick in the draft, used their second pick to select Henderson, ostensibly as a change-of-pace back but also as an insurance policy should Gurley break down.
After getting acclimated to NFL speed in a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, Henderson anticipated a larger role Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys and throughout the preseason.
"They want to see what I'm capable of doing," he said last week.
Henderson started Saturday and was utilized as a runner and receiver in the Rams' 14-10 defeat in front of 49,936 at Aloha Stadium.
Henderson started fast, catching a third-down pass on the right side and turning it into a 26-yard gain during the first series. He played three series in the first quarter, and was in for a few situational plays in the second before returning for a two-minute drive at the end of the half.
He finished the half with 12 touches, rushing for 16 yards in six carries and catching six passes for 38 yards.
Coach Sean McVay is not playing starters or key rotational players during the preseason to ensure that they are physically sound for the Sept. 8 opener against the Carolina Panthers.
With Gurley and Brown at home, Henderson, second-year pro John Kelly and third-year pro Justin Davis were scheduled to share the workload Saturday.
The 5-foot-8, 208-pound Henderson got the majority of his in the first quarter.
That was expected after he came off the bench and had for 13 yards in six carries against the Raiders.
Henderson said he was not nervous before his first game.
"I had already had my mind right," he said. "It's football. ... That guy across from you, he's going to try to knock your head off, so you've got to be ready to knock his head off. You got to be locked in, and I was locked in."
During his junior season at Memphis, Henderson averaged nearly nine yards per carry and rushed for 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns. He caught 19 passes, three for touchdowns.
Henderson struggled at times with alignment against the Raiders, but McVay said last week that Henderson showed during joint practices and the game that he can be tough to bring down.
"When you do see the ball in his hands he's physical," McVay said. "It seemed like a play's blocked for about four or five 1/8yards3/8 and then it ends up being second-down and three."
Henderson said that Gurley and all of the running backs have helped him make the transition from college to the NFL.
The main advice for Henderson and younger backs is centered on pass protection, Gurley said.
"As long as we pick up enough protections, I could care less what we do," he said. "Just make sure the quarterback is good, we're doing our job."
But Gurley gave Henderson a positive review for his performance against the Raiders.
"There's nothing really to tell him," Gurley said. "Just in-game experience and just working on little things ... but nothing too crazy."
Blake Bortles completed seven of 11 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in three series in the first quarter for the Rams before he was replaced by Brandon Allen in the second quarter. Two passes by Bortles were deflected at the line of scrimmage and one was dropped by receiver Mike Thomas. ... JoJo Natson caught a short touchdown pass but fumbled a punt. ... Receiver Jalen Green had four catches for 43 yards in the first half. ... Linebackers Bryce Hager and Natrez Patrick combined to sack Dak Prescott during the first series. ... Cornerback Dont'e Deayon intercepted a pass in the third quarter. ... Rams linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, a draft pick in 2018 who did not play in a game last season because of injuries, deflected a pass and forced two holding penalties in his first appearance in the NFL. ... Prescott and other Cowboys starters played one series and drove 92 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown. The drive was capped with a 14-yard run by rookie running back Tony Pollard, a former teammate of Henderson at Memphis.
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