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The sky's the limit for Raiders running back Latavius Murray

A better offensive line, a commitment to the ground game and less competition for carries should translate into a breakout season for Latavius Murray.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Way back in 1992 I was a redshirt freshman at UT just trying to get in where I fit in. While I redshirted the previous year, two running backs who came in with me in 1991 played right away. Both guys, Aaron Hayden and James "Little Man" Stewart, ended up having big years as true freshman rushing for over 900 yards apiece. We seemed set at the running back position for the foreseeable future, so it was curious when one of the top JUCO running backs in the nation, Charlie Garner, decided to sign with us the following spring. I think most of us on the team were super curious to see what this Garner cat could do for the simple fact that if he wasn't good enough to beat out Hayden and Stewart, he might have ruined any chance he had of making it to the NFL by signing with us.

Well, for some reason he wasn't cleared to practice the first few days of training camp, adding to the intrigue surrounding him. When he finally was given the green light to practice, he wore a helmet, shoulder pads and pants that all looked way too big for him. The coaches decided to hold him out from practicing against the first- and second-team defense since it was his first day in pads. Instead, they elected to give him some reps when the third-team offense went against the third-team defense.

I'd just been moved that fall from linebacker to defensive end, so I was over with my defensive line coach at the time, Ray Hamilton, trying to learn the finer points of the position. At one point, Coach Hamilton happened to look over to see how the backup guys were practicing and saw Garner break off an absolutely amazing run behind one of the worst offensive lines I have ever seen.

Suddenly I heard coach Hamilton scream out almost involuntarily, "WHO THE FUCK IS THAT?!"

That's pretty much the exact same reaction I had last year while watching Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray run wild against the Kansas City Chiefs, not exactly slouches on defense, in Week 12.

Murray missed his entire rookie season in 2013 because of a preseason ankle injury. In 2014, the Raiders had only given him 10 carries up to that point of the season, four of those carries coming the week before his big game against the Chiefs. I guess Murray determined that if he was only going to get four carries again he had better make the most of them.

And boy, did he!

Four carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went for 90 yards. I bet there might have been a few folks on that Kansas City sideline asking that same question that Coach Hamilton asked all those years ago. Unfortunately, Murray sustained a concussion on his fourth carry, which knocked him out for the rest of the game. He didn't even start the game, and he was knocked out with a little over six minutes left in the second quarter.

There was a whoooooole lot of time left for Murray to do even more damage on the ground, had he not been hurt. The concussion ended up lingering, which caused him to miss the following game as well. That definitely put a damper on Murray's momentum from the Chiefs game.

He returned for the last four games of the season, but the results were mixed. He started three of of those contests, and the Raiders handed it off to him more than 20 times in two of them. He only averaged more than 3.7 yards per carry once during that time span, however. If you didn't actually watch the games, you might figure he was just a one-hit wonder who caught the Chiefs slipping. I would beg to differ.

Murray was still playing well and still flashed. It just wasn't quite as flashy as what he did in the Chiefs game. I think Murray's impressive combination of size (6'3 and 230 pounds) and freakish athleticism will allow him to take over as the undisputed starting running back for the Raiders this year.

Can you imagine trying to tackle a dude that big who clocked a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at his pro day? Hey man, good luck with that. Add in the fact that the Raiders' offensive line should build off their play last year and be a solid unit, and Oakland may actually be able to grind the shit out of people with its ground game this year. Don't forget that new head coach Jack Del Rio is an old-school guy who loves to run the ball. I think the sky is the limit for Murray.