Vikings Hope Latavius Murray Debut Can Spark Red-Zone Attack

Posted by: Latavius Murray

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer hopes to give Latavius Murray a “taste” of preseason action when Minnesota hosts San Francisco on Sunday.

If it were up to Murray, he’d dig in on the whole feast.

The veteran running back is expected to make his Vikings debut after missing the first two preseason games while recovering from ankle surgery he underwent six days after signing a three-year, $15 million contract in March.

Murray was sidelined for all of spring workouts and didn’t begin practice until Aug. 7, the day he was activated off the physically unable to perform list.

In that time, second-round pick Dalvin Cook has risen to the top of the depth chart and moved closer to being named a starter. Murray, who was anticipated to be the replacement for Adrian Peterson, has maintained patience in his path back to the field.

“I just needed to get healthy,” Murray said. “Now that I’m healthy and out there practicing with them, I’m starting to feel where I should be.”

Murray hasn’t experienced any roadblocks in gradually increasing his workload during the last two weeks. The preseason isn’t the end-all, be-all for the veteran back, but an important time to showcase the skills that made him a Pro Bowl selection after the 2015 season.

“I think he’s done a nice job in protections, he’s been running with his pads low,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s done a nice job in finding the seams and holes. He’s looking good, catching the ball well.”

One area Murray shines brightest is in short-yardage situations.

That’s a good sign for the Vikings, who have struggled to establish a consistent goal-line scoring attack, amassing a league-high 19 red-zone penalties last season.

“If you can run the ball in the red zone ... with tighter safeties and things like that, it’s always an advantage,” Zimmer said earlier in the week.

What Murray can add in goal-line situations could be a focal point of his return. The running back took nearly 82 percent of the Raiders' carries inside the 5-yard line in 2015. And last season, he scored 10 of his 12 touchdowns from inside the five, including a two-yard score in the wildcard game.

It’s a contribution he knows he can make in Minnesota. But Murray wants to show he’s capable of more than lowering his shoulder and bulldozing into the end zone.

“Obviously I can do short yardage, I can score in the red zone, goal-line situations, pass-protect,” Murray said. “For me, I’m always looking to improve my game and show the volume of my game. I want to catch the ball out of the backfield and maybe show my route-running ability. I just want to be involved, really, just do the most. That shows how valuable you can be as a player.”