Few players have seen their stock rise and fall without playing a down like Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray.
When free agency began, the Vikings wasted little time in signing Murray to a three-year, $15 million deal in free agency, leading many to speculate that he would be the player designated to replace Adrian Peterson as the power back on the Minnesota backfield. While that hasn’t changed, a lot has since he was signed on March 17.
It became known pretty early on that, despite the terms and numbers of the three-year deal, it was actually a one-year contract that would pay Murray $4.16 million with two option years that, if the team moved away from him, would only count as $1.2 million in dead money.
Just six days after signing his deal, Murray had ankle surgery that would keep him out of minicamp, organized team activities and the start of training camp. Five weeks after signing with the Minnesota, the Vikings traded up in the second round to draft Dalvin Cook, who is projected to get every opportunity to be a dynamic playmaker in the Vikings offense.
Murray has found himself trying to catch up in what was largely a non-competition during training camp and the preseason. Cook was the starter on the first preseason depth chart and nothing has changed since. He’s the starter on Monday against the Saints, but Murray is amped up to get his first regular-season game as a Viking and get the most out of his opportunities against a Saints defense that has struggled to stop the run in recent years.
“I’m just excited to go out there against another opponent,” Murray said. “It’s the first opportunity to set the tone for the season, but the season is here. If you’re not excited? I think everybody is. This is what we play for. It’s Monday night. This is what it’s all about.”
Murray said that he isn’t sure how the distribution of playing time between him, Cook and Jerick McKinnon will take place.
The Vikings have different packages that include all three of them in different roles – the lead back who takes most of the series, a change-of-pace back who starts out about every third series and a third-down specialist. There are schemes for each of them in those roles, but how it will play out hasn’t been finalized other than Cook is going to get the first shot.
“We haven’t really discussed specific downs and what guy will be in there,” Murray said. “Right now, Dalvin is the starter and, when my number is called, I’ll be ready to go. They have everyone in all situations. We haven’t narrowed it down to any specific downs or what this person is doing or not.”
Murray is no stranger to playing the time-share game. Last year in Oakland, he was part of a three-headed backfield with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington – a pair of smaller speed backs.
In the end, Murray had more than half the rushing attempts (195), but Richard and Washington combined to have just about as many (180). Murray established himself as the ideal short-yardage/goal-line back, scoring a career-high 12 rushing touchdowns, but it was a clear platoon system that spread the ball around.
Against teams that Oakland felt it could grind out yards up the middle, Murray was the primary back – he had five games with 18 or more carries. However, while he led the team in rushing 13 of the 14 games he played, against certain opponents, it was almost a three-way even split for carries.
What he is expecting in Minnesota isn’t all that different from his role last year with the Raiders.
“In Oakland, game-plan-wise, if they saw fit to have the younger backs on the field on that time for matchup purposes, that’s what we were going into the game doing. In goal-line situations or short-yardage, I think they wanted me in there given the success I was having converting and scoring. Here we haven’t designated that kind of role yet. We need to go out there and play some games and see what we do well and what we don’t. I think from there on, we can kind of figure out what kind of offense [we have] and who does what well.”
Monday’s opener will be the official unveiling of Minnesota’s new-look offense and the running game will be important as the Vikings do their best to keep Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson et al on the sidelines. Cook is coming out as the starter, but, if the Vikings have a lead, they may look to grind Murray between the tackles to shorten the game and wear down the suspect Saints defense.
It’s a bit ironic that the Saints are Murray’s first opponent as a member of the Vikings. The Raiders opened the 2016 season in New Orleans and won 35-34, scoring in the final minute of the game and going for a two-point conversion that proved to be the game-winning points.
As he starts his Vikings career, he knows it’s all business now that winning and losing matters and, as it did for the Raiders last year, who finished 12-4 after getting off to a strong start, momentum means everything, which puts Monday’s opener as a premium.
“The sense of urgency has picked up in the building,” Murray said. “For us, it’s an opportunity – the first game – to set the tempo for the season. We had that last year against New Orleans and it got us out of the gate strong. I’m hoping we can do the same this time around.”
Source: Scout | Jon Holler | September 8th, 2017