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Zimmer on Latavius Murray, Vikings Run Game in 2017

Posted Mar 31, 2017

Latavius Murray has the attention of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

Murray, whom the Vikings signed on March 16, has not only impressed Zimmer by his on-field performance but through his off-field nature, as well.

While in Arizona for the Annual League Meeting, Zimmer on Wednesday spoke with reporters during a media roundtable about the impression Murray made on him during free agency contract negotiations.

“We were going back and forth, and it got into like 1 a.m.,” Zimmer said. “And he just sat there, and he was doing his school work … but he didn’t complain one time. That showed me a lot about him.”

A sixth-round draft pick by Oakland in 2013, Murray was placed on injured reserve in August of his rookie year and did not make his regular-season NFL debut until 2014. In three active seasons with the Raiders, Murray totaled 543 carries for 2,278 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. He also added 91 catches for 639 yards.

“Latavius catches the ball well out of the backfield,” Zimmer said. “He’s good at protection … knowing who’s blitzing, where he’s coming from, all those things. And he’s a good runner.”

Added Zimmer: “He’s a good back who can help in the run game, in the pass game and in protection.”

Zimmer said that Murray’s signing doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be an every-down back, but he’s confident that Murray will help improve a run game that struggled in 2016.

According to the head coach, Minnesota’s rushing performance last season caused its offense to be one-dimensional. The Vikings were forced to continually pass because of an inability to gain any momentum on the ground.

“It allowed opposing defenses to lay their ears back, play a lot of coverage,” Zimmer said. “So in a perfect world, I want to be able to run the football, [use] play action and still be able to throw like we were able to throw it.”

The Vikings will be working on their running game for 2017 without Adrian Peterson, whom Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman announced the team will not be re-signing for an 11th season.

Zimmer said that while it ultimately comes down to business, it’s difficult to part with players who have become a long-term part of the team.

“He’s a great player,” Zimmer said of Peterson. “He’ll continue to be … one of the top guys ever in our franchise.”

Murray, who wore 28 both at Central Florida and with the Raiders, determined that he will instead wear No. 25 in Minnesota. He wrote in an Instagram post that he had never even considered asking for 28 because “I have too much respect for AP and so much respect for what he’s done and what he means to this organization.”

Murray’s gesture spoke volumes of his character.

“I thought it was impressive,” said Zimmer, who also added that “Latavius said it best” in terms of what his role will be with Minnesota.

“He’s not going in there to try to replace Adrian; he’s coming in to be the running back for the Vikings,” Zimmer said.

Murray will likely share carries in some capacity with Jerick McKinnon, entering his fourth season in Purple.

In 2016, McKinnon recorded 159 rushes for 539 yards and two touchdowns. He also contributed 43 catches for 255 yards and two scores through the air.

“Jerick’s a great kid,” Zimmer said. “Very explosive, catches the ball well. He can do a lot of things.

“I couldn’t say right now, ‘The carries are going to be this or that,’ ” he added. “We’re just looking at how we can improve in every way. I do think Jerick is an explosive player for us, and he’ll be able to help us out a lot.”

Regardless of who’s playing which downs, Zimmer wants to see a redefined Vikings offense in 2017. He included a number of facets he hopes to see improve, but it all starts on the ground.

Said Zimmer: “If we can get the running game going, it will help the play action and help get the ball downfield.”