This will likely be a scary thought for defenses.
Five years ago, the running back position felt like an anachronistic afterthought in the NFL, still useful but far from a priority as quarterb…
Alvin Kamara, one of the best players in the NFL and among the hardest players to tackle, figured out how to get even faster and smoother this offseason by altering his running style.
That might sound like the typical bluster we hear from players before every season. Everyone is bigger, faster and stronger in August and September. But the difference is, you can actually see Kamara taking strides differently than he did a year ago. He was asked about his speed because he is visibly faster.
The change in style might be most evident on an 8-yard run during Week 3 of the Saints' preseason game against the Chargers when Kamara took a handoff and used long strides to beat a linebacker to the edge. Once he turns up the field and meets traffic, he goes back to the way he ran last year, using choppier steps, his feet barely leaving the ground.
This is all by design.
“I did a lot in the offseason to work on my knee drive — just strengthening my leg muscles and working on muscle endurance in my legs,” Kamara said. “That’s something I felt I was lacking last offseason even if it didn’t look like it. I feel like it’s paid off tremendously.”
The barrage of points Ryan Fitzpatrick hung on the Saints early in the season opener forced New Orleans to deviate from its plan on offense.
The New Orleans Saints planned to find a running back or two to make sure Alvin Kamara wouldn't have to handle all of the snaps himself with M…
Changing things up might seem completely unnecessary. Kamara gained 1,554 yards from scrimmage last year and was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He could remain one of the best players in the league by merely maintaining the same level of play.
But Kamara realized last year that his legs weren’t as strong as he wanted them to be, and he lacked endurance in them. So, Kamara went to Miami to work with physical therapist Sharif Tabbah on improving his running style.
It’s something that Kamara has to think about when he’s running. He said it’s similar to track, when coaches yell “knees up!” But he notices a difference in his speed.
“I feel like it’s paid off tremendously,” Kamara said. “I notice a difference. I feel smoother.”
Sean Payton and other members of the Saints have said the way Kamara runs is what part of makes him so special.
Sometimes it looks like his feet never leave the ground the way he takes steps, which makes him difficult to bring to the ground. Those traits allowed him to break 56 tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I think one of his rare traits is his balance and his ability to shed tacklers,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “Not just in the hole, but in open space or whatever it might be. Then, obviously, his burst, his explosiveness. It's like he's hugging the ground too. His ability to change direction and just go from zero to 60. He can do it really, really quickly. All those things make him very unique.”
Kamara says his changes in stride aren't a threat to any of that. This is more about when he’s striding, like on the run against the Chargers. Once he got into traffic, he went back to taking shorter steps as he navigated traffic.
That was evident throughout the Saints' season-opening loss against Tampa Bay, when Kamara had three touchdowns and 141 yards from scrimmage. Kamara was still the same elusive player who was slipping in and out of tackles.
“I still get them up and down,” he said. “When I try to stride, it’s just getting my knees to drive, applying force to the ground and getting them up. I didn’t have a lot of knee drive last year. A lot of it was kind of up and shuffling out.”
So, really, what this means is that Kamara can now run away from people after he runs them over.
That is a certainly a scary thought for defenses.
If it seems like Alvin Kamara is having more fun than the other 90-something guys on the Saints training camp roster, it's because he probably is.