Bama buddies Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry earn NFL leading roles

Kenyan Drake (17) and Derrick Henry (2) celebrate after Henry's touchdown run in the College Football Playoff National Championship in January 2016. Drake and Henry face off as NFL lead backs for the first time Sunday. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

DAVIE, Fla. -- Derrick Henry remembers vividly the last time that he and Kenyan Drake shared a backfield. Henry won the Heisman Trophy in the fall of 2015, rushing for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns. Drake, then his backup, spent most of the year battling an assortment of injuries.

Ultimately, the duo won a national championship, defeating Clemson in a thrilling, 45-40 game. Henry had 36 carries for 158 yards and three TDs. Drake had one carry for 1 yard.

But it sums up their relationship that Henry's favorite moment from that game came when he was on the sideline and Drake had his moment to shine.

Drake returned a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to put the Crimson Tide ahead 38-27.

"He just kept fighting and battling back. I was happy to see him do that," Henry said, now the Tennessee Titans starting running back. "That's like my brother."

On Sunday, when the Miami Dolphins host the Titans, the former teammates will square off on opposing teams, each with their first NFL opportunity to start the season as lead back. Their time at Alabama bonded them. Their similar NFL career paths set them on a stage where they both can eat in 2018 and beyond.

"It was always been a competition between us, but we've always been boys. We always push each other to get the most out of each other. There was never animosity," said Drake, who will be the Dolphins' lead back. "He came in the spring after I came in, so it was almost like we were in the same class. We left the same year. We been in the league the same amount of time. We hit each other up every week or every other week."

They talked earlier this week and will likely spend time during pregame chopping it up. Henry raved about Drake earlier this week, calling him "very dynamic," "very versatile," and "all over the place."

Each back got a successful taste of the lead role toward the end of last season. Drake led the NFL in rushing (444 yards) in the last five games of the season. Henry had a dominant postseason debut, rushing for 156 yards and a touchdown in a wild-card victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, they'll both get first crack at a chance to claim the lead role for good.

"We understand the opportunity we have at hand. We’re going to make the most of it," Drake said.

The Titans and Dolphins each signed a veteran back to help share the load -- the Titans have Dion Lewis, and the Dolphins have Frank Gore. But whoever has the better game between Drake and Henry could decide Sunday's game.

Drake's maturity has shown throughout this offseason as he prepared for this opportunity. The Dolphins have made it clear that Drake will get the chance to prove he can be a focal point of Miami's offense.

Henry, too, has been preparing to be unleashed after waiting behind DeMarco Murray for two seasons.

"It changes because of the keyword ‘lead.’ Anything you can do extra like be more focused, pay more attention to detail, be more fundamental, that leads to less mistakes. You have to take charge, and take pride in that by doing those things," Henry said. "I'm doing that and I am sure he is doing that. It definitely changes the game when you get that opportunity."

Now, both Henry and Drake have their chance. It's time to see what they'll do with it.

ESPN Titans reporter Turron Davenport contributed to this story.