One of the biggest developments of Minnesota Vikings’ training camp has been the emergence of rookie Dalvin Cook as the top running back.
The next step for the coaching staff will be to determine how best to use Latavius Murray.
“I think they both can play on all three downs,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “From a play calling standpoint, that gives you great flexibility. It doesn’t matter who’s in there.”
With the Oakland Raiders, Murray had success as both a short-yardage grinder and pass blocker as part of a three-back trio.
On Monday, Shurmur was not yet ready to commit to a role for the 2015 Pro Bowler.
“When he’s in the game we just want him to play good, efficient football, run the ball and try to create explosive runs if he can, and when he’s asked to pass protect to do the same thing,” Shurmur said. “We want him to get in there and get his feet wet and get playing again. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Cook helped his cause for the RB1 spot against the Seattle Seahawks when he rushed seven times for 40 yards.
“There were a couple seams he hit there that were pretty tight that became almost explosive runs,” Shurmur said. “You see a guy that’s disappointed when he doesn’t make the safety miss. That’s a good thing because one of those times when the safety does miss, that could be a touchdown. We’ve been impressed with what he’s done.”
Murray has missed the majority of training camp recovering from ankle surgery. He has joined full team drills for the first time within the last week and could play Sunday when the Vikings play against the 49ers at US Bank Stadium.
His performance in practice and preseason over the next few weeks may determine whether the Vikings see a Cook-Murray 1-2 punch or if Murray is purely Cook’s backup.
Running back Jerick McKinnon did see some first-team reps against Seattle but only after Cook was done. McKinnon, however, is in a different position from Murray. His ability to run routes allows the Vikings to use his big-play capabilities in different positions and situations.
McKinnon told 1500ESPN he spends time in the offseason on route running in case he is needed as a receiver.
Even with the challenge of finding playing time for Cook, Murray and McKinnon, his backfield is significantly upgraded from last season when they lost Adrian Peterson and split reps between McKinnon and Matt Asiata.