NAPA — Whether it was because of injuries his first year or a lack of trust from his coaches last season, Latavius Murray has been more of a spectator than a participant since joining the Oakland Raiders.
Murray has played just 15 games and carried the ball 82 times since being drafted in the sixth round back in 2013. That’s all about to change this season as the Raiders are counting on Murray to be that bell-cow running back they’ve been missing in recent seasons.
The spark Murray provided when he finally got to play late last season proved that he was worthy of getting a chance at a bigger role.
“My mentality is to go out and be that guy,” Murray said. “It’s about putting a series of carries together and getting comfortable back there. The main thing is I know how to do it. I just need to stay healthy.”
That’s been a bit of a problem for Murray, who missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury that limited his offseason work before year two and left him on the bench behind the ineffective Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden for the first half of last season as he struggled to gain the coaching staff’s trust.
With no limitations this offseason, Murray has looked the best he has in his career, showing why the Raiders were so high on him coming out of Central Florida.
“I think he’s been holding himself back,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “Being able to practice all the time and getting away from those nitpicking injuries. This is the first offseason that he didn’t have to go through rehab. Coming into training camp he was 100 percent. Last year he just didn’t get his opportunity until week 10, 11. That part wasn’t his fault. He was ready to play. He was healthy going into the season. Just the offseason leading up to it he was always nicked up. If he can say healthy I don’t think anything is holding him back.”
Murray carried the ball just six times the first nine games despite Oakland being on pace to be the worst rushing team in the NFL since 1946. Murray then got four carries for 43 yards against San Diego on Nov. 16 and burst on the scene last November when he rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on four carries against Kansas City as Oakland got its first win after 10 straight losses to open the season.
Murray missed the next game with a concussion but had 68 carries for 258 yards the final four weeks to give him confidence that he can carry a heavier load this season.
“It helps out a lot,” he said. “Just to be a little more comfortable out there and knowing that I was able to make some plays and these people know that I’m capable of doing things like that. Just continue to go out there and do that and get better every day and let that carry over into the season.”
With Murray carrying the bulk of the load and an improved offensive line anchored by new center Rodney Hudson, the Raiders hope to show significant improvement in the running game after finishing last in the league in rushing a year ago.
The running game has looked sharp this summer with Murray able to use his 6-foot-3, 230-pound size and game-breaking speed to make big plays on the practice field. That carried over into the first exhibition game when Murray had six carries for 35 yards.
“He’s been looking really good,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “He hit the holes. He’s got good vision. He’s got good bounce. I think he’s done well.”