It was the week before Thanksgiving and the lights were on for the Raiders' Prime Time match-up with division rival Kansas City Chiefs. Latavius Murray was sprinting 90 yards for a touchdown on his third carry of the game. It was his second touchdown of the night.
November 20, 2014, was the running back's coming-out party. He had four carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Murray finished the season with 82 carries for 424 yards and two touchdowns with three starts.
After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, 2014 was Murray's first real opportunity on the NFL stage. Despite having two long-tenured veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, the University of Central Florida-product made the most of his chances.
Now, heading into the 2015 season, Murray has the opportunity to be the Raiders No. 1 guy in the backfield. It's new territory for the upstate New York-native, but he's ready to embrace it. "It's a great feeling, but every day I have to go in there knowing I need to get better every day," Murray explained. "I need to play like it's a new year. Last season is just last season and the year before that it was the year before that. Every season is a new year for me and it's a year I have to go out and prove something."
Even after a productive offseason program, Murray knows that there's still a lot he needs to do to earn the starting role. "I still know I have a lot to prove. I'm still going out there and competing against the other guys in the room, just like I was the first two years. Being healthy this year is a difference obviously. Sitting out my first year and playing just a little bit towards the end of last season. Other than that, it's no big difference. I'm still competing and I know I have a long way to go until the season starts."
Murray learned a great deal about preparation, both from sitting in the No.3 spot, as well as working with two experienced backs. "I learned that regardless of what my situation was, just to continue to get better every day in practice and keep working hard no matter where I was in the depth chart, no matter if I was playing special teams or not, whatever I was doing, just making sure I was getting better," said Murray. "You talk about just being around two guys like Maurice [Jones-Drew] and D-Mac [Darren McFadden], they've been around a long time, so I was able to learn from them because they put a lot of time in. Whether it's on or off the field, it's just very helpful for a young guy coming in. I definitely learned a lot from them and it'll definitely be a reason why I have any success at all."
Although the two veteran running backs have moved on, Murray's friend and additional mentor, fullback Marcel Reece, is still a leader in Silver and Black. "It's really comforting, especially having been with him for the past two years now, and going into this third one. A great leader, and he's become a good friend of mine. It helps a lot with him being in the room and him being the pro that he is."
Playing alongside and behind three consummate professionals has allowed Murray, despite only three starts last season, to understand what it takes to succeed and want more of it. "Getting a chance to start three games, it's something that I definitely want to continue to build off of," Murray said. "I had that mentality in the offseason just to prepare to be the No. 1 guy and play that way and train that way."
Murray didn't know what to expect when he arrived in Alameda for the offseason program because of all of the changes, but he finished the work at the Raiders facility excited for the future. "It's been real fun. I love the running game," said Murray. "I love just the positions [Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave] is putting us in as running backs and just being able to go out there and make plays, whether it's running the ball or catching the ball out of the backfield. It's going to be very exciting."
The new coaches and new players in the position group are fostering a high level of competition. While that can be a lot of pressure, no one puts more pressure on Murray than himself. "For me, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I would think any person does," said Murray. "I just know how important it is. This is a big year for me and I know what I need to do to go out there and prove myself. I hold myself to a high standard."
One of the ways he'll be able to live up to that pressure and the expectations is to be a complete back. It's a goal Murray believes he can achieve. "I'd like to think that I am a complete back, as far as knowing my assignments and protections and being a running back that can catch the ball out of the backfield," said Murray. "I know my assignments. I know who to block. Again, I think I can be a threat out of the backfield. As long as I am just getting better every day and improving in all areas, I think I'll be just fine."
Murray proved last season he has the talent to be the guy. Now it's about showing the new staff and his teammates that he can bring that value consistently.
All of the men wearing Silver and Black know their ultimate goal – to win. "We want to just come together and get better as a team. Come together and get better knowing this is the beginning," said Murray. "We do have a long way to go and we need to continue to work so we can obtain our goal, and that's winning the division."