MANKATO, Minn. –For the first time since signing with the Vikings almost five months ago, Latavius Murray took the field with his teammates.
It was a great feeling.
"I'm just happy to be back on the field and get some individual work, more drills pertaining to football," Murray said. "So that felt good."
He later added: "It's been a while, and obviously this is my first time practicing with this new team, so a lot of emotions there. But a majority of it is just excited to be back on the field."
The running back disclosed upon signing as a free agent in March that he would need to undergo ankle surgery. After spending all of the offseason program rehabbing, he was placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list.
The Vikings on Monday **activated Murray from PUP**.
When asked if he's entirely 100-percent pain-free, Murray said he still has "some soreness" but wouldn't be on the field if he wasn't ready to practice.
"I [don't think there's anybody] on the field right now that is 100 percent, no pain. So just throw me in there with them, and it's no different," Murray quipped. "I just need to get used to getting back to football form, football shape and be ready to go."
He said that he's looking forward to getting more reps and "just kind of turning on that switch" back to football.
Despite physically being unable to participate, Murray didn't allow his mind to take a break. He has been focused on learning the offense since arriving in Minnesota and said the mental reps helped to make the return to the gridiron much smoother.
"I've been in-tune to it mentally in the meeting rooms and when I come out here by seeing walk-through and those things. And then obviously in the OTAs," Murray said. "You have to lock in when you're sidelined; that way when you get back into it, you're right on schedule."
Murray is no stranger to missing time due to injury, as he was sidelined his entire rookie season after being drafted by the Raiders in 2013. After a fairly quiet 2014 season, Murray had strong performances in 2015 and 2016. Over 30 games played (28 starts), he recorded 1,854 yards and 18 touchdowns on 461 carries and added 74 receptions for 496 yards.
The Vikings signed Murray and then drafted Dalvin Cook a month later. The plan is to combine the pair with Jerick McKinnon, the team's leading rusher last season.
Quarterback Sam Bradford said everyone is "waiting to find out" specifically what Murray will bring to Minnesota's offense.
"Obviously, we know he's a very talented player," Bradford said. "I think we all feel very confident with the running backs group that we have. I think we've got three guys that can really play and play at a high level.
"It was good to see him out there, going through individual [drills], being able to give him the ball a few times, give him the handoffs, to see him move," Bradford continued. "But to get him out there on the field, I think we're all excited just to figure out exactly what kind of player he is."
Murray didn't participate in any team contact drills, and whether or not he will play in the preseason contest at Buffalo Thursday night remains undetermined. He said that it's a "one-day-at-a-time kind of thing" right now.
Earlier in training camp, Murray stated that Cook and the other running backs had "the upper hand" by having the on-field reps that Murray lacked. He reaffirmed that mindset after practice on Monday.
"I still have a lot of catching up to do," Murray said. "They've seen a lot of [Cook], he's been on the field, he's been playing, and so he deserves everything he has right now. I have to prove to the coaches and the team that I'm able to go out there and perform at a high level. Today was just the start toward that direction."
Reiff's return also welcomed
Murray wasn't the only player back on the field Monday.
Left tackle Riley Reiff returned to the offensive line for the first time since suffering an injury on July 27.
Reiff participated only in non-contact, individual drills but was grateful to get back out there and "get a little work in."
"If felt good to be out here with the guys and working with the O-linemen, and it's fun putting the pads on," Reiff said. "It's frustrating not being out there with the guys. I'm happy I'm out there today, and I look forward to moving forward."
Also participating in practice was Rashod Hill, who had been in playing in place of Reiff. Hill went down during Saturday night's practice and was carted off the field, but he later returned.
According to Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, Hill needed an X-Ray but was then cleared.
After a 2016 season in which five players lined up at left tackle for the Vikings, Zimmer admitted that he thought, "Not this again."
"But you can't go into this thing with kid gloves or scared," Zimmer added. "We just have to go, and if something happens we have to regroup. We learned from last year that that's the way we have to do it."
Zimmer evaluates night practice
More than 10,500 fans packed Blakeslee Stadium to watch the Vikings under the lights on Saturday night.
Zimmer liked what he saw, too. His assessment of the two-hour practice included praise for both sides of the ball.
"I thought the defense looked good for the most part," Zimmer said. "We gave up a couple big passes which wasn't good, but our front guys rushed good.
"I thought the running game was better, but we still have to get better with that," Zimmer added. "And Bradford, when he's got time, can throw the heck out of the ball."
Zimmer said it was difficult to evaluate some aspects of the practice without full tackling, but noted that Cook fared well.
"I thought he was good," Zimmer said. "It's kind of hard when you're not talking because some of these 2-yard runs could turn into [6-yard runs]. But the defensive line did a nice job, too."
The Vikings will wrap up training camp practices in Mankato on Tuesday afternoon. Zimmer said progress has been made in both the offensive and defensive phases.
"I think the defense is ahead of the offense, but the offense has made great strides," Zimmer said. "With a lot of things we've been working on, they're getting better at.
"I thought offensively it was a good day today," Zimmer added. "Not as good defensively."