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John DeShazier: Demolition of Texas A&M gave Saints assistant Joel Thomas a clue of Kamara's ability

Posted Mar 1, 2018

Kamara had a school-record 312 all-purpose yards in the game for Tennessee

Indianapolis – One game jumped off the screen for New Orleans Saints running backs coach Joel Thomas.

In it, he saw the havoc that a healthy Alvin Kamara can wreak on an opponent, and the memory still is vivid a year later, as Thomas reflected Thursday from this year’s NFL Scouting Combine on the Saints drafting Kamara last year.

Kamara was one of two draft picks on offense last year and the other, offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk, also proved to be invaluable.

But the running back who went on to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year was the player that created a space in Thomas’ memory bank. Amid an injury-hampered 2016 season at Tennessee, Kamara wasn’t slowed during his demolition of Texas A&M.

He had a school-record 312 all-purpose yards in the game, and matched a career high with three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). He ran for 127 yards on 18 carries, caught eight passes for 161 yards, returned three punts for eight yards and had one kick return for 16 yards.

The inability to consistently post those kinds of numbers contributed to Kamara’s being drafted in the third round.

“We’re all guilty of not seeing what we saw during the course of this season, because he was taken in the third round,” Thomas said. “So everybody passed on him at least twice, some did it three times. But I know for a fact, the game that jumped out for me a year ago when I was evaluating him was the Texas A&M game.

“I think that game, you saw kind of everything that he’s done over the course of this last season with us – except for, I don’t think he hurdled anybody in that game.

“But you saw him catch the ball, you saw him run with power, you saw him run with vision, you saw his balance, you saw the ability to score, the ability to have big plays. That game was probably the epitome of what he’s done this last year for us. As the season went on, I know he endured an injury after that game and I don’t know if he quite returned to that form. There were times he flashed but I don’t know if he ever had that game show up on his last year at Tennessee.”

Probably, that worked in New Orleans’ favor; Kamara lasted until the 67th pick.

That was 35 picks after the selection of Ramczyk, who started every game, including starts at left and right tackle, and played every snap for the league’s second-ranked offense.

“What we’ve grown to know even more so is, this guy has a lot of passion, a lot of desire to be a great player,” Saints offensive line coach Dan Roushar said. “Certainly, you have to have the talent and you have to have all these other intangibles, but he has those two things and that’s great ingredients for success.

“I don’t think people really can fully appreciate what he did do. Left to right is a world of difference. Your feet, everything starts opposite.

“Here’s the thing: We go to him and I said, ‘Hey, we’re going to move you to right tackle this week.’ I said, ‘How much right tackle have you played?’ He said, ‘Well coach, when I was a sophomore in high school, I played five or six snaps.’ That’s it. And right then, he said, ‘But, let’s do it,’ and never looked back. And just continued to improve. (Assistant line coach) Brendan Nugent deserves a lot of credit, as does Ryan. They both did a great job.”

Roushar noted Ramczyk’s mature approach, and Thomas also was complimentary of Kamara’s level-headedness.

“You go through this whole process and it’s almost like a courtship or a dating process, where you’re getting to know the person,” Thomas said. “The Combine is the first time that us as coaches, our staff, we get to meet this person first-hand and get to know them and kind of get their history, and kind of get their history and what has brought them to this point. What’s made them successful, what are maybe some of the fallbacks they’ve had to endure during the course of time.

“We sat in our formal interviews with Alvin and the rest of the prospects at that time. I remember him walking out of the room and we were all like, ‘Hey, this guy is bright.’ I hadn’t really seen the football yet; that’s something that as we get back after the Combine, we watch a little bit more tape and do the study.

“But we knew this prospect was bright, he was intelligent, really level-headed when he went through the whole process. Whether you would ask a difficult question or something that may spur laughter, he just seemed even-keeled the whole time and that was something that we really liked when we met him.”