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Shurmur says no limits on roles for Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray

Before seeing Latavius Murray play a game in a Vikings uniform, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur says he’s not going to limit the veteran running back’s potential role in his offense.

The same goes for rookie Dalvin Cook. When asked if Murray, listed four inches taller and 17 pounds heavier than Cook, would be more suitable for short-yardage situations, Shurmur dodged the labels.

“I think they both can play on all three downs,” Shurmur said. “From a play calling standpoint, that gives you great flexibility. It doesn’t matter who’s in there.”

The Vikings should take whichever running back produces after last year’s historically weak rushing offense. They’re expected to get a first look at Murray, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound former Raider who has been nursing a surgically-repaired ankle, during Sunday night’s preseason game against the 49ers.

Murray was a three-down back in Oakland, drawing praise for his ability to pass protect while also running effectively in short-yardage situations. He scored 12 touchdowns for the Raiders last season, including eight from 1-3 yards away, according to Pro Football Reference. The Vikings had nine rushing touchdowns as a team last season — two from Jerick McKinnon, who will also be a factor.

“[Murray] is kind of a slasher,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We had a play down there in goal line [Sunday], when he saw the cut that he had to make, he lowered his pads and accelerated into the tackler, which I thought was good.”

While the Vikings could eventually trend to using Murray near the goal line, that doesn’t mean Cook won’t get his opportunities. Cook has been used as an every-down back during two preseason games, flashing his elusiveness in Seattle, where he picked up 33 yards in one three-play stretch. He’s also taken a rookie lump or two in pass protection, but shown to be a fluid receiver out of the backfield.

“We’ve been impressed with what [Cook] has done,” Shurmur said.

Zimmer hopes line can avoid repeat of last year's 'Titanic' crash

For a second consecutive offseason, the Vikings made the offensive line a focal point of renovations.

And once again, head coach Mike Zimmer said at this point he feels comfortable with his personnel.

“Yeah, but I mean last year I thought we were in pretty good shape, too,” Zimmer said Monday. “Then we hit, you know, the Titanic crashed.”

By now, you know the story. Except this iceberg that helped sink the Vikings’ 2016 season was made of Matt Kalil’s torn hip labrum, Jake Long’s torn Achilles, John Sullivan’s bad back, Mike Harris’ career-threatening ailment, Phil Loadholt’s retirement and Andre Smith’s injured triceps.

A year later, the Vikings expect to finally debut the full starting offensive line during Sunday’s “dress rehearsal” of a preseason game against the 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Left tackle Riley Reiff, the $56 million offseason addition, is expected to debut Sunday after a back injury has limited him throughout August.

The Vikings’ interior offensive line depth has looked improved with the emergence of center/guard Nick Easton and the selection of rookie Pat Elflein in the third round. Tackle is a different story. The Vikings ponied up to sign two starters, Reiff and Mike Remmers, in free agency, but kept the status quo behind them.

When asked about tackle depth in training camp, Zimmer said a lot with a few words when noting they “need to stay healthy” at those spots.

If not, the tackle they’ll currently turn to is Rashod Hill, the second-year undrafted man out of Southern Miss. With Reiff back in the fold, Hill has been taking snaps at right tackle during practices to seemingly prepare as the Vikings’ swing tackle this season.

“I think the biggest thing with Rashod is, if he continues to be good with his sets and his hand placement, he’s a pretty tough guy to pass rush against,” Zimmer said. “So he’s improved with his technique everyday. He’s improved with his mental errors everyday. So that’s been the process. He’s still got to, you know, keep cleaning things up to where he needs to be.”

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