Knowing that Dalvin Cook was on track to make a full recovery after an ACL tear, the Minnesota Vikings could have released running back Latavius Murray and saved themselves a few bones on the salary cap. Instead they re-worked his contract and kept the veteran running back on board. That decision has already proven to be the right one.
Last week Murray set a career high with 155 yards rushing in the Vikings’ 27-17 win. Minnesota’s offense also killed the final three minutes of the game by pounding away at the Cardinals in the run game.
Murray has been pressed into the No. 1 role — as he was last season — by another Cook injury. This time the former Florida State star has been dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out Week 3, limited him Week 4 and kept him out Week 5 and 6.
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo isn’t surprised that Murray has stepped up in Cook’s place. He has known the veteran back since they both were with the Raiders early in Murray’s career.
“I have a unique perspective on that because I was in Oakland when we drafted Latavius,” DeFilippo said. “He was a really good player in college but had a foot injury and pretty much redshirted his rookie year. The first sign that Latavius was going to be a really good pro was that he treated every day like he was the starter…guys who have that mindset as a rookie have a tendency to find a niche in this league.”
Last year Murray gained 842 yards and scored eight touchdowns. After a big day against the Cards, he’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season.
”Latavius has a way of wearing people down,” DeFilippo said. “Even when he gets stopped at the line of scrimmage or the point of contact is at a yard or two, there’s always a serge going in our favor. He’s a big guy and he’s going to fall forward a lot, so just his size and strength and what a downhill runner he is.”
While his running ability landed Murray in the Pro Bowl in 2015 and helped the Vikings sustain a running attack post-Cook in 2018, DeFilippo points out there are a number of other elements of his game that bring value to the Vikings’ offense.
“I think he has much better hands than people give him credit for,” DeFilippo said. “And another reason he’s been able to carve out a niche in this league for so long is that he really understands pass protection. To me he’s a complete back.”
DeFilippo noted that the differences between Murray and Cook make it challenging when the latter’s status is unclear each week. Cook was a full participant on Wednesday but did not practice Thursday.
Head coach Mike Zimmer added onto the praise for Murray, saying that his personality drives the former sixth-round pick’s success.
“Number one, he’s a great person,” Zimmer said. “He’s a very diligent about his work, practices hard, but he’s got good feet and acceleration. He stayed with the reads really well yesterday, I thought. He runs with his pads forward. When he gets a chance, very seldom is this guy going backwards when he gets hit. A lot of those things I really like.”