With Battle, Titans return to days of valuable running back depth

Jackie Battle is going to learn something.

“I’m really going to see who my real friends are this week,” the Tennessee Titans running back said Wednesday. “Are they supporting me or are they going to support the Texans? We’ll see.”

Divided loyalties are nothing new in sports, particularly when an athlete makes a rare appearance at home, which the 29-year-old will do this weekend. He was born and raised in the Houston suburb of Humble and played at the University of Houston.

When it comes to Sunday’s game between the Titans and Houston Texans (noon, CBS), however, he figures passions will remain consistent from start to finish.

“I know a lot of Houstonians hate the Titans,” Battle, who was 13 when the Houston Oilers left town to become (eventually) the Titans, said. “They hate the Titans.”

Whatever happens among his cheering section, the Titans are anything but ambivalent about Battle, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound bruiser who is with his third NFL team in as many years.

After one game he already is the most productive third back the franchise has had in years. He rushed for 47 yards and Tennessee’s only touchdown in Sunday’s season-opening victory at Pittsburgh, much of it after Shonn Greene was sidelined with a knee injury.

Not since 2007, when the roster included LenDale White, Travis Henry and Chris Brown, has this team had a collection of ability and experience comparable to that of Battle, Greene and, of course, Chris Johnson.

“[It] is a bonus to have three guys,” coach Mike Munchak said. “It seems like we haven’t been able to stay healthy at running backs. The backups seem to be hurt the last two, three years for us, and it happened, you know, with Shonn.

“Luckily, we had Jackie ready to play, and he contributed.”

A look at how the Titans’ third running back has performed in recent years:

2013: Jackie Battle 14 carries, 47 yards, 1 TD
2012: Jamie Harper 19 carries, 30 yards, 3 TD
2011: Jamie Harper 17 carries, 44 yards, 1 TD
2010: No third back
2009: Javon Ringer 8 carries, 48 yards, 0 TD
2008: Quinton Ganther 9 carries, 61 yards 0 TD
(Battle’s stats are for one game; all others are for the entire season)

With Greene questionable for this week’s game (he did not practice Wednesday) it’s possible Battle could be a big part of the offense in this one.

The only other time in his career he played at Houston was Oct. 17, 2010, when he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. He did not give anyone anything to cheer about that day. He never touched the ball.

“I think it’s going to be fun to play in front of the people I’ve played in front of my whole life,” he said.

Even if they won’t like him when he does.