It may take Saints fans some time to see Latavius Murray as more than Mark Ingram’s replacement, but in just the six days New Orleans has been together for Organized Team Activities these past two weeks, the team’s running backs coach Joel Thomas sees so much more.
Like, a lot more.
“He’s a large human,” Thomas said Thursday after the end of the team’s second round of OTAs this offseason. “I find myself looking for him in the huddle, and I realize he’s right in front of me, but I keep thinking (his body) is a tight end, not a running back.”
Just as the team’s star offseason acquisition Jared Cook looks more the part of a defensive lineman, Murray could pass off on looks alone as thundering pass catcher, but he may be even more effective at his natural position. Whereas Ingram stood just 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds, a stout bowling ball that could pack a punch up the middle, the Saints’ new tailback signed in the offseason from the Vikings has six inches and 15 pounds on Ingram.
When the team can get into pads, Thomas can’t wait to see Murray work on lowering his center of gravity, shrinking down to Ingram’s size with that much more power behind his first contact.
After the first three days of organized team activities, NFL teams are all about managing expectations.
“You’re starting to see some of the flashes that made him an intriguing guy to recruit and come be part of our squad,” Thomas said. “When he gets his foot in the ground and get heavy behind the pads … you’ll feel his speed and the size as he starts to go north-south.
“He’s a taller target, but when he gets to where he’s this ‘ball’, so to speak, good luck tackling that.”
On the first day of free agency this offseason, the Saints signed Murray to a four-year $14.4 million contract, creating the next edition of the team’s two-back system that has been so potent in recent years. The sixth-round pick from 2013 missed his rookie season after undergoing ankle surgery in the preseason, but since, has appeared in at least 14 games the previous five years, at times holding the leading role in the backfield for Oakland and Minnesota.
In the second session of OTAs open to the media on Thursday, the Saints featured a different offensive line than the one last week.
But Murray isn’t naïve of the early successes Saints third-year tailback Alvin Kamara has had and knows well his role will be a complimentary one. So far, the two have meshed well, he said, as the pair attempt to create the next version of the ski mask backfield of the previous two seasons.
“Different guys do different things. Alvin does some things different than what I can do, but I know what I can bring to the table,” he said. “When you get Alvin out there in space against a linebacker, and I’m in the backfield, a team doesn’t know if you’re going to hand the ball off or throw it to one of the guys out there.
“Those are things that are hard to defend, and I just want to do my part well.”
Murray has also found comfort in a couple familiar faces in the locker room from his two seasons with the Vikings in fellow free agent signings cornerback Marcus Sherels and offensive lineman Nick Easton, along with teammate-turned-foe-turned-teammate Teddy Bridgewater.
“It just feels good to see Marcus and Nick, guys I was with just last year. It feels good to be in the huddle with Nick,” Murray said. “Teddy as well, but obviously a year removed, so I’d gotten into the mindset Teddy was the enemy for a little while.”
He laughs, then continues.
“It’s good to see what he’s overcome and done to get another contract here. He’s deserving of it.”
Outside of the already familiar faces, Ingram, who Murray knows well from training together and USO tours with each other in the offseason, filled the UCF alum in on the quality locker room he would be walking into the moment both signed with their new teams in March.
Partnered with the consistent level of success and competition Murray had seen first-hand in the teams’ three meetings over the past two years, including one playoff matchup Saints fans may wish to forget — “I don’t want to bring it up, the year before,” Murray chuckled — when New Orleans came calling at a time when the tailback was looking for a team to give him a fresh start, he was all ears.
“This is a place competing for a championship the last few years and been very, very close, and for me, going into year seven, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I’ve made some good money, got a family, but I want a ring.”
Partnered alongside Kamara, he sees a Super Bowl as a very real possibility with how they compliment each other, even if Murray may need to work on some names still.
“When you get Dalvin (Cook), I mean, Alvin. I’ve got to get used to that,” he laughed. “That won’t be the last time, I promise you.”
Don't worry, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Gov. John Bel Edwards.
One more thing to find normalcy in? Playing as a six-year veteran with a quarterback 11 years his senior. That may be tougher than digesting any playbook, no matter how complex.
“He just told me this is his 19th season. I’ve never heard that before. He told me the quarterback he played with in San Diego … Doug Flutie. I said ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’,” Murray explained. “He’s a true veteran. A lot of guys talk about being a veteran. He’s a true veteran, and I think he knows this offense like the back of his hands.
“I almost think I can just do what Drew says, and I won’t get in trouble.”