Despite having ankle surgery last week that could cause Latavius Murray to miss much of the offseason workouts, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer sees Murray as a running back that has a diversified game.
“He’s a big, strong back,” Zimmer told SiriusXM this week, referencing Murray’s 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame. “But he’s really an all-around back. He catches the ball well, he’s good in protection, he’s got the slither – the patience to hit the hole, and then the slither.”
The Vikings signed Murray to a three-year, $15 million deal in free agency and are hoping he can be part of the plan to resurrect a running game in which the Vikings finished last in the NFL in 2016.
But it wasn’t just his running that attracted the Vikings to Murray when he became a free agent.
“Latavius catches the ball well out of the backfield. He’s good in protection, knowing who’s blitzing and all those things,” Zimmer said at the NFL owners meetings this week. “And then he’s a good runner. I’m not saying he’s going to be in there every down. I never said he’s a three-down back. I said he’s a good back that can help in the run game and the pass game and he’s good in protection. I think [Jerick] McKinnon will still get a lot of carries and go from there.”
When the Vikings were without Adrian Peterson for the final 15 games of the 2014 season as he dealt with legal issues, McKinnon – eventually – became the focal point of the running game. The Vikings initially turned to Matt Asiata, who finished as the team’s leading rusher in 2014 with 570 yards, but McKinnon had 538 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 51 fewer carries than Asiata.
That’s why Zimmer still considers McKinnon a viable option to complement Murray while the Vikings still haven’t re-signed Asiata in free agency.
“Jerick is a great kid. Very explosive, catches the ball well. You can do a lot of things with him,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know yet, I couldn’t say right now carries are going to be this or that. We’re just looking for ways to improve in every way. I do think Jerick is an explosive player for us and he’ll be able to help us a lot.”
Murray had 1,066 yards as the Oakland Raiders’ full-time starter in 2015, but last year his role was more limited. He started only 12 games, playing in 14, and finished the season with 788 yards.
Murray didn’t want to take Peterson’s former jersey number with the Vikings, 28, which was also Murray’s number in Oakland, and instead elected for 25. Zimmer called that an “impressive” statement on Murray’s respect for Peterson.
“I think Latavius probably said it best. He’s not coming in there trying to replace Adrian,” Zimmer said. “He’s trying to be the running back for the Vikings.”
While Murray has a big frame at 230 pounds, the knock on him from analysts is that he doesn’t break as many tackles as his frame might indicate he should.
“I’m going to go by what I see,” Zimmer said when offered that analysis during his interview with SiriusXM. “… I’m more of a believer in what I see than what I hear, so we’ll just wait on that and see how it goes.”