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.