Saints RB Alvin Kamara learned importance of staying mentally sharp following time on COVID list

Alvin Kamara spent 10 days at home, forced to do nothing but rest while dealing with COVID-19 as his team finished the regular season as the NFC's No. 2 seed.

For a player as impactful as Kamara, the time away wasn't desirable but was necessary. It also left him with a challenge: Stay ready, for the playoffs were only a week away.

Kamara did just that, returning from his time on the reserve/COVID-19 list to rush 23 times for 99 yards and a touchdown, and catch two passes for 17 yards. His play helped the Saints defeat the Chicago Bears in an underwhelming but important wild-card victory. It also gave Kamara time to get his feet back under him before facing a more challenging opponent with the stakes raised.

With the arrival of every postseason comes a chance for the league's best to rest before their most important games. Kamara received his break out of necessity, and learned an important lesson that had nothing to do with his physical preparedness.

"I think a lot of it is mental," the running back said Thursday, via the team's official site. "It's a long season, you've got to be in for the physical grind. But if you can keep your mind in line I think it gives you that much more room for success.

"My 10 days (away from the team), I was kind of really just trying to keep my mind right. Like, OK, I'm out, I can't do anything as far as practice and meetings in person and stuff like that. And I'm not even talking about mental like in the meetings, the Zoom calls and stuff like that, because obviously I had to do that. I'm just talking about me, personally, making sure I'm on point and I'm not getting out of my season form as far as my mind goes.

"The physical, I wasn't worried about the physical at all. Just the mental, making sure I'm still locked in and making sure, like, I've got a playoff game to play. I have coronavirus and I'm at home, I'm sitting, I'm on the couch, whatever. But I can't lose focus of the fact that we still have football to play."

Sitting on the couch and watching your team from home has to be among the most frustrating scenarios for any competitive athlete, especially one with the importance of Kamara, New Orleans' best offensive weapon. It might also cause that feared effect on a player who's spent some time out of routine: rust.

Kamara exhibited zero signs of such a negative effect, returning in the same form his Saints had grown accustomed to seeing.

"Every time Alvin steps on the field it's impressive," center Erik McCoy said. "That's just the type of player he is. But especially without a week of practice, without a week of the game plan and to go for almost 100 yards rushing. I think like (116) total (yards from scrimmage), is crazy, it's insane really.

"But, it's just like, the type of athlete that he is, the attention to detail that he has, even when he's not in the building. And it's the type of player that he is. He's special, really special."

Kamara won't need any WD-40 or steel wool to keep himself prepared for this weekend's crucial matchup against the rival Buccaneers. As he proved in his performance against the Bears, he's a well-oiled machine ready to fire at a moment's notice, even after dealing with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has affected the way we all go about our daily lives.

"Honestly, you're just impressed the entire time," McCoy said. "When Terron (Armstead) came back from his Coronavirus, that first game was an adjustment period for him. He was still feeling a little sick, a little slow.

"But for Alvin to come back and be right back to where he was, I was on the sidelines impressed -- breaking tackles, showing off his rare balance, athleticism, skill. Kind of in awe at the things that he can do, especially coming off the virus."

New Orleans will need his contributions to match Tampa Bay's aggressive offense in Sunday's Divisional Round matchup.

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