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NAPA – Raiders coaches were impressed by running back Latavius Murray at Central Florida. His tape showed a back with slashing power and breakaway speed, making him a real steal in the sixth round of the 2013 draft.
During the offseason program and early portions of training camp, Murray was a facsimile of his former self. There was a hitch in his giddy up, a sure sign something wasn’t right.
“We thought, ‘Man. This is a totally different guy than the one we saw on tape,’” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “It looked like he was running on bunions. There were some real, noticeable foot issues. He doesn’t have any remnants of that now.”
This preseason, Murray looks healthy, strong and poised to make an impact in the regular season. He feels light years better than last year, when his NFL career got off to a false start.
He played in just one preseason game before bowing to an ankle injury that required surgery. He rehabbed a while before realizing the joint still felt off. He had a second surgery in December to “tighten things up,” and only felt normal again in May.
“It was a long road back,” Murray said last week. “I’m so happy to be playing like myself again.”
That’s a good thing for the Raiders running game. Despite Murray’s progress, Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden will do most of the heavy lifting. Murray could be a solid accent piece, one that offers youth and energy and size.
Fans are smitten by Murray’s potential. It’s easy to dream big with a back who is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds.
At this point potential hasn’t turned kinetic. He played well in Friday’s preseason opener, but needs to build on that throughout this series of exhibitions.
Health breeds confidence, which should allow Murray to continue his ascent. He’s also become comfortable as a kick returner.
“Before this camp, the last time I returned a kick I was in high school,” Murray said. “I don’t mind though. Anything I can do to help the team out. And, honestly, I’ll take any opportunity to get the ball in my hands.”
Exactly how often that happens remains a mystery. There are only so many carries to go around, and Jones-Drew is expected to take most of them. The Raiders are happy to have another weapon in the arsenal should they have to use it, especially one that looks as good now as he did in college.
“It’s obvious that when you go back in the mental picture of what you saw from him last year and what we’ve seen to this point this year, it’s obvious that he was not healthy last year,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “I think now that he’s back to being healthy, I think we’re seeing a little bit more the type of back that we felt we were going to get when we drafted him. I think, to this point in camp and really through the first preseason game, he’s done well.”