When getting to know players during the NFL draft circuit and at the scouting combine, Saints coach Sean Payton has a question he likes to ask.
It might sound innocuous, one of many inquiries ranging in importance that players receive while meeting with team after team. But it means a lot to Payton: He wants to know whom the players study and emulate.
The answer might make or break your image for him and the Saints.
“If they do not have an answer for that — once in a while, you get the response, ‘I don’t really watch pro football,’ ” Payton said. “That’s a red alert for me.”
Alvin Kamara has an answer for that question. The Saints' rookie running back grew up watching the greats. Some of his favorites were Adrian Peterson, Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes and Clinton Portis.
You see glimmers of his influences when you watch him play. Kamara isn’t just a receiving back. He runs between the tackles and to the outside, plays with a combination of power and finesse, and has the ability to catch a pass out of the backfield or split out.
While it will take year after year of NFL success for him to reach the level of any of those players, his style is a combination of his idols' best traits.
“I was just trying to take pieces of their game and put it into mine,” Kamara said. “That’s why I think I kind of ended up being a little bit of everything.”
Notes and observations from Sunday’s practice.
Kamara’s role is still being sorted out, and how much of the offense he can digest will ultimately determine how much he plays during his rookie season.
He needs to be able to run the football, but he’ll also have to conquer the intricacies of the passing game and be able to handle a role in pass protection if he hopes to supplant Travaris Cadet. The task won’t be easy. It will mean learning sections of the playbook that a traditional running back would not have to understand — at least not to the level Kamara will — when entering the offense.
So far, he has impressed the coaching staff with his ability in the classroom, a positive sign for the third-round pick. Payton even invoked one of the running back’s idols when discussing Kamara’s intelligence.
“There are some traits that Alvin Kamara has that remind me of Marshall Faulk, with regards to his intelligence and his ability to run routes,” Payton said. “(Faulk) was as good as there was in that element of the game and probably one of the top three or four backs of all time. He was one of the smartest players I ever coached.”
Kamara likes to see things; that’s how he learns. He likes to be able to turn on film, whether it be of the most recent practice or something from a previous season, and see how someone else did it. He’s an emulator, which is how he acquired some of his skills as a kid — by watching his list of greats.
Having players like Peterson and Mark Ingram around also has helped. Not only do those players set a positive example on film, but they’re also there to answer Kamara’s questions, and sometimes they even approach him and give tips when they see something he could be doing differently or better.
And even when he has something down, Kamara stays on top of it, trying to find ways to polish his game.
Some of the questions many had about the Saints are turning into answers.
“When you think you know something, you got to go back over it,” he said. “Keep the learning process going and just be ahead so the curve isn’t as big as it would be if you were just coming out here raw. Just trying to stay ahead of myself.”
Most of it has come quickly for Kamara. The last frontier at this point is getting better in pass protection. He did some of it in college at Tennessee and has no problem putting his body between quarterback Drew Brees and a blitzer, but there are intricacies that he’s still learning.
His ability to get up to speed in this department might be what determines his role. The Saints ask a lot of their running backs in the two-minute offense, and if Kamara struggles in protection, it could be difficult to unleash his potential fully until he’s up to speed.
“While I feel like I’m pretty good at it, it’s still a lot of recognition that goes into it,” Kamara said. “It’s a lot more complex, and guys are a lot better at hiding what they’re doing. Just being better at recognizing when guys are coming and not coming, just different types of pressures, different fronts.”
The Saints have had some good running backs over the years. Certainly, if there are any issues, Kamara can put on some film and find someone to emulate.
The New Orleans Saints have spent the better part of the past few years trying to figure out…