Murray looks to build on late-season success for Raiders
With a new coaching staff intent on establishing the run in Oakland, Murray just might get the chance to show what he can do with even more opportunities this season.
Murray has been getting most of the work with the first-team offense this spring and will enter training camp next month as Oakland's top running back. He has earned that spot by arriving in tip-top shape and with a better knowledge of all the responsibilities of an NFL running back.
''I still know I have a lot to prove,'' Murray said. ''I'm still going out there and competing against the other guys in the room, just like I was the first two years. Being healthy this year is a difference, obviously.''
Murray missed his entire rookie season in 2013 with an ankle injury and carried the ball just six times in Oakland's first nine games last season as he was stuck behind ineffective veterans Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden.
But then he sparked the Raiders late in the season, starting with a 23-yard run in San Diego in Week 11 that was the longest of the season at that point for any Raiders running back.
Murray had his breakthrough game the following week with four carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns as Oakland got its first win of the season against Kansas City. But that game was cut short by a concussion.
Murray then carried 68 times for 258 yards over the final four weeks and has followed that up with a strong spring to move into the starting role when training camp begins in July.
''Right now, he's been running with the lead group, but he knows that he has to earn that through camp, through the preseason,'' coach Jack Del Rio said. ''But he's done a nice job this offseason. He is taking steps and growing as a young player.''
Del Rio has put a strong emphasis on establishing the run after the Raiders ranked last in the league in rushing last season with 77.5 yards per game and in run attempts with 337.
''We know on the offensive line, we know in the running back room how important the running game is to this offense,'' Murray said. ''They make it a big emphasis to us. We know how important it is for us to run the ball in order for this offense to be successful. We definitely take that into consideration every day.''
Del Rio said he plans to use all three backs this season but Murray has come a long way to earn trust of the coaches. The staff last year under head coaches Dennis Allen and Tony Sparano and coordinator Greg Olson didn't think Murray was ready to handle the responsibilities of an NFL back, which also include pass blocking and receiving.
Murray hadn't been asked to do much of that in college at Central Florida, which isn't unusual according to Del Rio, who said that most college running backs are asked to do little more than run.
Murray knows the importance of those other facets and feels as if he's ready to handle the load of an every-down back.
''I'd like to think that I am a complete back, as far as knowing my assignments and protections and being a running back that can catch the ball out of the backfield,'' he said. ''I feel I can do those things. I know my assignments. I know who to block. Again, I think I can be a threat out of the backfield. As long as I am just getting better every day and improving in all areas, I think I'll be just fine.''
NOTES: Del Rio's message to the players as the offseason program ended Thursday was to be smart between now and training camp. ... S Nate Allen did not practice the final two days of minicamp but Del Rio would not say whether he will be healthy at training camp.
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