Offseason practices are nearly done. They began two months ago with voluntary minicamps with one more practice remaining before the team heads to their break. And from the beginning of those practices until today, Latavius Murray has remained the first team running back.
It took more than a season and a half before Murray stepped into the role of starting running back for the Raiders. The former sixth round pick spend his entire rookie season injured and then was behind heading into offseason practices last year, buried behind Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew much of the season.
He finally got his shot in week 11 and hasn't looked back. Now the Raiders are looking to him to be their starting running back for the upcoming season.
"This offseason was a little different because going into last year I was still coming off the injury and rehabbing and recovering," said Murray. "I was able to do a lot more. I was able to run a lot more and train a lot more. Nothing different from in the past, just that I was able to do a lot more things that I wanted to do. I was able to train and lift the way I wanted to."
Raiders RB position battle: Murray vs Richardson
As the Raiders head into their third OTA session, there's a battle brewing at the running back position.
Murray acknowledges that the most important thing for him now is to remain healthy. Being in peak physical condition is key because he has already been asked to carry the ball a lot in practice and that will only ramp up when training camp starts and heading in to the season.
Whether he will be a true workhorse is mostly up to him, but there are a couple of other backs who will factor into the equation as well.
"[Murray]'s done a nice job this offseason," said Jack Del Rio. "He is taking steps and growing as a young player. So, if you have a lead guy, great. Even if you do have a lead guy, you always need the backup and backups ready. So, we added a couple of guys, obviously in Trent [Richardson] and Roy [Helu, Jr.]. We'll give them an opportunity to compete as well with the guys that are here."
One of the areas that had Murray on the bottom of the running back depth chart early last season was not knowing all of his assignments. Then head coach Tony Sparano said when Murray seemed ready was when he played. Well, now he has an entire new playbook to digest and a new coaching staff to adjust to. And of course, he must continue to work on the fundamentals outside of actually simply running the ball, which is only part of his duties at this level.
"There is more to that position playing a running back in the NFL than just carrying the ball," said Del Rio. "You have to be able to secure it. You've got to be able to protect your quarterback, and you've got to be able to catch it and run routes. So, all those areas are areas where he can grow."
"I'd like to think that I am a complete back," Murray responded. "As far as knowing my assignments and protections and being a running back that can catch the ball out of the backfield, I think the little things I can be better at like techniques. Other than that, 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."
These areas are in constant need of honing and strengthening. If Murray lets up on his responsibilities, he has several eager backs behind him who could take snaps from him. Understanding that nothing is a given will be key to his continued development.
"I still know I have a lot to prove," said Murray. "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. Sitting out my first year and playing just a little bit towards the end of last season. Other than that, it's no big difference. I'm still competing and I know I have a long way to go until the season starts."
Del Rio and new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave have been very clear they would like this offense to revolve around the running attack. Murray understands full well the importance the running game will have to the Raiders new offense. And therefore the key role he will play in that offense should he retain the starting job when the season arrives.