INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Grigson will always remember the first time he met DeMarco Murray.
The year was 2011, and Grigson was in his final year as the Philadelphia Eagles' Director of Player Personnel before coming over to Indianapolis as the Colts' general manager the following season, and the Eagles brought in Murray for a Top 30 prospect visit before the NFL Draft.
"Still to this day I gauge a handshake by DeMarco Murray's," Grigson said of Murray, whom the Dallas Cowboys would end up taking in the third round that year. "I mean, he about crushed my hand in my office in Philadelphia."
Not surprisingly, that same "man about business" approach on the field has paid off for Murray in the NFL.
He comes into Sunday's game against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium second in the NFL with 930 rushing yards. In all, he's ran the ball 191 times (for a 4.9 yards-per-carry average) with eight touchdowns, while he also has 37 receptions for 259 yards and two receiving touchdowns.
He's been a huge reason behind the Titans' recent offensive surge; in two November games — contests in which Tennessee scored 35 and 47 points, respectively — Murray is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, including 17 carries for 123 yards — and a season-long 75-yard scamper — with a touchdown in last week's 47-25 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
He had a solid game Oct. 23 against the Colts in Nashville, running 25 times for 107 yards and a touchdown, but Indianapolis was able to pull out a 34-26 victory. Grigson knows Murray could be an even bigger factor in Sunday's rematch.
"He's strong, he's got more quickness and burst than you'd think for a guy his size," Grigson said of Murray, who stands at 6 foot 1 and weighs a solid 220 pounds. "He runs hard, he's an every-down back, he can block — he can do a lot of things for you. But, again, he is a guy that runs under his pads, and you better be bringing it all four quarters, because he's a guy that can wear you out."
Much of Murray's success this season can be attributed both to improved offensive line play, led by left tackle Taylor Lewan, and the continued development of second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Mariota — the second-overall pick in last year's NFL Draft — has seen his completion percentage take a serious rise in recent weeks, completing almost 82 percent of his passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns three weeks ago against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and completing 73.1 percent of his throws for 295 yards and four touchdowns last week against the Packers.
Grigson said the emergence of Mariota, matched with Murray's production, has made it clear that "it's kind of all coming together" for the Titans.
"They made big plays last week, there's some trickeration in their game, the quarterback runs a spread option and zone-read stuff, and that can get you off kilter," Grigson said. "And he's developing from the pocket now. And that's something that I think has really come along for him. He's making throws from the pocket now and kind of his maturation is happening before your eyes, and they're something to contend with."
The Colts (4-5) know they have to win at home on Sunday to keep up with the Titans (5-5), who sit a game in the win column behind the AFC South-leading Houston Texans (6-3), to continue to have a realistic shot at contending for a playoff spot down the stretch.
To do that, Grigson said his team's performance at home — where Indianapolis is just 2-2 so far this season — must improve.
He expects the home crowd, as it has always been, to be loud and proud at Lucas Oil Stadium, making things difficult for that up-and-coming Titans offense to concentrate.
"Every weekend we need them, and need them to be as loud as possible. There's been some with the roof open, with the roof closed, that you can't hear yourself think — we need that type of environment, obviously," Grigson said. "We need to have that kind of tradition when people come in here. And we've got to build a tradition of winning at home, and get back on track in that respect."