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Mike Zimmer: Latavius Murray can aid passing game

During the NFL Scouting Combine, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman noted he'd been speaking to the coaching staff about the type of running back they wanted to bring in. At the time Spielman's words suggested an end to Adrian Peterson's run in Minnesota. The signing of Latavius Murray last week officially finished All Day's time as the face of the Vikings.

Speaking Tuesday on KFAN, coach Mike Zimmer noted the positives Murray brings to the position.

"He's very knowledgeable," Zimmer said, via the team's official website. "Obviously he's a big back ... he's got strength in his running game, power in his running game ... He catches the ball well out of the backfield and is a good pass protector."

The final notes are key to why the Vikings would replace an all-time great with a sixth-round pick his former squad didn't seem interested in retaining: the passing game.

Peterson never excelled as a receiver or pass protector. His career high 436 yards on 43 catches came all the way back in 2009 and his usage in the passing game has waned further in recent years. Built for offenses that operate under center, Peterson is becoming an antiquated back in terms of scheme fit, with most teams utilizing more shotgun formations.

Murray has never been prolific as a pass-catching back -- career high 232 yards on 41 receptions in 2015 -- but Zimmer nonetheless praised the 27-year-old for his ability to be an outlet for Sam Bradford.

"Sam does a great job of getting the ball checked down when he needs to, and I think (Murray's) got a chance to (help with) that," Zimmer said. "If we can continue to get him to break tackles and make some long runs, that's what we're looking for."

(Insert low-hanging-fruit joke about most of Bradford's passes being check downs.)

We're skeptical of Murray's ability to be a dynamic receiving threat out of the backfield -- something Minnesota could add in the draft -- but he can be serviceable as an outlet. Where the 230-pounder excels is in pass protection.

"No. 1 is knowing where the pressure is coming from," Zimmer said of Murray's pass protection ability. "Typically the back has more than one guy in protection ... he may have three or four different guys and he has to pick out the one that (blitzes).

"And then being able to step up in there and take on a big linebacker or big safety."

Murray ranked third among running backs as a pass blocker in 2016 by Pro Football Focus.

With the Vikings utilizing more shotgun, the team likely feels Murray's experience in the formation is more in line with what offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur wants out of a power back. Last season with the Raiders, 256 of Murray's 480 snaps came from shotgun, per Next Gen Stats -- compare that with just 30 percent of Peterson's snaps in 2015 (and 42 percent in an injury-plagued 2016). Signing Murray, however, that shouldn't preclude Spielman from adding a runner in a draft deep at the position.

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