ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Midway through last season Latavius Murray was sitting on the Raiders bench, confident in his abilities but uncertain whether he would get a chance in Oakland’s crowded backfield.
Things sure have changed in the 13 months since then.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Murray is closing in on the AFC rushing title and needs just 44 yards to become the first Raiders running back since 2010 to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
That’s a fairly lofty achievement considering that Oakland has had sporadic success moving the ball on the ground. Heading into the Christmas Eve game against San Diego, the Raiders are 25th in rushing.
“It would mean a lot,” Murray said Tuesday when asked about reaching 1,000 yards. “Obviously a good benchmark for me individually, but also just for this offense and a compliment (to) the way we’ve been running the ball.”
A sixth-round draft pick in 2013, Murray was slowed by injuries early in his career. He spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve then suffered a concussion during a breakout game against Kansas City last November.
Murray has stayed healthy this season and the results have been mostly positive.
He’s fifth overall in the NFL with 956 yards and has eight runs of 20 yards or longer which is tied for fourth.
First-round pick Amari Cooper reached the 1,000-yard mark for receiving yards last week. If Murray reaches the milestone for rushing, it would mark the ninth time in franchise history and first since 2005 that the Raiders have a running back and wide receiver do it in the same season.
That’s one of the reasons Oakland is optimistic about its future, despite the team being assured of a 13th consecutive season without a winning record.
“All that stuff means we get good players,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “When you hear things like that it means we’re heading the right way. I’m happy that I’m here and that I get to be a part of it.”
Murray had good reason to question if he would be a part of Oakland’s future or present. The 25-year-old fractured his left foot during training camp in 2013 and underwent surgery that sidelined him the entire season.
He came back in 2014, but hardly played on offense for the first two months of the season while the Raiders went with the aging and unproductive duo of Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Murray got an opportunity against Kansas City during a nationally televised game on Nov. 20 when he rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries. He suffered a concussion and did not play in the second half against the Chiefs. But showed enough over the final games to convince the front office that he deserved an extended look.
When McFadden was not re-signed and Jones-Drew retired, Murray got his chance. He hasn’t looked back since.
“I just think I’ve been able to be in there and be involved and been able to learn that way as opposed to maybe being on the sidelines,” Murray said. “Being out there while the bullets are flying and learning that way, that’s been the difference.”
If there’s a knock on Oakland’s running game, it’s in the lack of consistency. Murray has been limited to 50 yards or fewer six times this season. The Raiders are 1-5 in those games.
“I definitely think for me individually I have a lot of room for improvement,” Murray said. “A lot of things I want to get better at, maybe plays that I feel like I left on the field. I always believed in my abilities, I always believed if I’m on the field I can make plays and do good things. I’ll continue to do that.”
Note: Because of the short week, coach Jack Del Rio scrapped plans for a full practice and instead went with a walk-through. That should help some of the team’s veteran players such as safety Charles Woodson, who has been nursing a shoulder injury since Week 1.