NAPA — Latavius Murray is finally getting the chance to show the Oakland Raiders what kind of running back he can be when healthy.
A year after his rookie season ended in training camp with an ankle injury, Murray is running with the power and determination that made the Raiders so excited to draft him in 2013.
Murray had seven carries for 28 yards and also caught two passes for 13 yards in the exhibition opener at Minnesota on Friday night. He is trying to earn himself regular playing time in a crowded backfield that also includes Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden.
“It definitely was exciting to get back on the field and get the ball in my hands again,” Murray said Sunday. “I definitely feel 100 percent better compared to last year and where I was then to where I am now. I’m just excited now being healthy and going forward this year.”
Murray came into camp last year with high hopes as a rookie but was nursing an ankle injury that hampered him throughout practice. After rushing for 29 yards on eight carries in his first exhibition game, Murray was shut down and underwent arthroscopic surgery on the ankle.
He spent the entire season on injured reserve, only able to watch his teammates play.
“It was tough,” he said. “Anybody in that locker room, if you have to sit out and watch your other teammates play, it hurts. So, I took that mentality in the offseason to get better and work hard so it doesn’t happen again this year.”
With the Raiders uncertain with what they had in Murray, they brought McFadden back this offseason and also signed Jones-Drew. But they also expect Murray to be a big contributor as a runner, receiver and possibly even a kick returner this season as well.
Murray is a physical back at 225 pounds but also has breakaway speed, as evidenced by his 4.38 40-yard dash time. He was a big-play back in college at Central Florida, rushing for 37 touchdowns in his career and scoring six more as a receiver and one on a kickoff return.
He ran for 1,106 yards and scored 19 touchdowns as a senior, earning first-team Conference USA honors and becoming a sixth-round pick by the Raiders.
“It’s obvious that when you go back in the mental picture of what you saw from him last year and what we’ve seen to this point this year, it’s obvious that he was not healthy last year,” coach Dennis Allen said. “I think now that he’s back to being healthy, I think we’re seeing a little bit more the type of back that we felt we were going to get when we drafted him.”
Murray said his missed year wasn’t a complete loss, as he was able to sit in meeting rooms, learn the playbook and see what it took to be a professional while rehabbing his injury.
Murray said that knowledge has helped slow the game down in training camp this year, when he has also been helped by Jones-Drew and McFadden.
The two veterans are trying to bounce back from rough seasons in 2013 and the competition at running back is pushing all three of the backs to be at their best.
McFadden ran 23 yards on his only carry Friday night and Jones-Drew had 24 yards on four touches.
“When you got a group of backs like that, you can get nothing but better every day in practice,” Murray said. “When they’re in their getting reps, they’re making the most of it. So, you got to make sure you’re doing the same thing when you get in there and just get better.”
NOTES: LB Kaluka Maiava returned for the first time since injuring his hamstring on the first day of practice. … DT Justin Ellis missed practice after suffering a concussion in the game Friday. … CB Jansen Watson left the team so that he can contemplate his future.