EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The results of the exhibition itself will be rendered meaningless for the Minnesota Vikings as soon as the weekend is over.
For Latavius Murray, his mere participation is what matters most.
More than five months after surgery on his right ankle, six days after the running back signed with the Vikings as a free agent, Murray will finally be free to carry the ball for his new team in a game situation.
“I’m just happy that I’ll be out there. So we’ll see how the workload goes,” Murray said after practice on Friday afternoon.
When the Vikings turned Adrian Peterson loose and picked up Murray from the Oakland Raiders, the fifth-year veteran who hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2015 and rushed for 12 touchdowns in 2016 was on track to take over as the featured back. Then the Vikings made Dalvin Cook their top pick in the draft, leaving the rehabilitating Murray a bit behind.
The length of his recovery, having been on the physically unable to perform list until Aug. 7, only increased the likelihood that Cook will have the first crack at the carries. With the versatile Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings have another running back they can creatively factor into the game plan, too. So the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Murray will be eager to showcase his skills Sunday night when the Vikings host the San Francisco 49ers. Four days later, they’ll wrap up the preseason against the Miami Dolphins.
“We want to be explosive, and I’m going to try and make sure I can do whatever I can so we’re doing that, whether we’re throwing the ball down the field and I need to protect, or I’m catching the ball or running the ball,” Murray said. “Every single way. I want to protect, run, catch. I want to do it all.”
After a concerning spate of injuries early in training camp, the offensive line is at full strength, with a critical decision coming with the starting lineup. Pat Elflein and Nick Easton have taken turns at center, with right guard also an option for the odd man out of the competition if he’s deemed better than 13-year veteran Joe Berger.
The only starter who likely won’t play Sunday night is tight end Kyle Rudolph, who watched practice this week with a sleeve over his right leg. So this will be a true audition and tuneup for the first team offense.
Coach Mike Zimmer spent about an hour on Friday morning with general manager Rick Spielman evaluating Elflein, Easton and Berger, evaluating all of the practice and game repetitions they’ve taken over the last month.
“I think I know how it’s going to go, but things change,” Zimmer said. “Injuries, maybe a guy doesn’t play like you expect him to play, something like that, or maybe another guy plays better.”