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Alvin Kamara's 2020 season demanding comparison with all-time greats
The ability and intelligence of Marshall Faulk comes up again and again
By John DeShazier Nov 13, 2020

History is staring Alvin Kamara in the face, but it can't get him to look back.

It smiles. It flirts. It beckons.

But the New Orleans Saints' fourth-year running back offers no reciprocity.

"I just keep moving," Kamara said this week. "I'm not one that is super into individual – I'm not into myself like that to where I get caught up in the things that I'm doing. Records, stats, I don't really care about all that. I want to win. Team success, it brings individual success. The focus is not on me, it's so much bigger than me.

"So I never really get into myself to that extent to where I would lose focus or get ahead of myself or beside myself. I'm having fun playing, I'm having fun being around my teammates, having fun when we're doing what we've got to do to win every week and we're having the success that we're having. That's what I'm focused on."

That would make these times, fun times for Kamara, an NFL Offensive Player of the Year candidate at the midway point of the season for the Saints (6-2), winners of five straight entering Sunday's game against San Francisco (4-5) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The 5-foot-10, 215-pounder leads the league with 1,036 yards from scrimmage (471 rushing on 96 carries, 565 receiving on 60 catches) and is tied for fourth with eight touchdowns. He's on pace for 120 catches (which would be a single-season record for a running back; Christian McCaffrey set the record with 116 last season) and he's slightly behind pace to top Deuce McAllister's franchise single-season record of 2,157 yards from scrimmage, and his own mark (tied by Dalton Hilliard) of 18 touchdowns.

But it's the way Kamara goes about his business – operating as if his spider sense tingles when mayhem approaches – that drops jaws and demands comparisons.

"I coached Marshall Faulk – this guy's scarier," Tampa Bay Coach Bruce Arians said. "He's got great speed, he's got great hands, he's got wide receiver skills – but he's a hell of a running back. He's a tough tackle."

Arians was quarterbacks coach for the Indianapolis Colts from 1998-2000. In Faulk's final season with the Colts, 1998, he ran for 1,319 yards and six touchdowns and totaled 908 receiving yards and four touchdowns, the first of four consecutive years that the New Orleans native, and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back, had at least 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns.

"Marshall Faulk," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "I had a chance to coach him at San Diego State (in 1992-93, as the Aztecs' running backs coach). I'm not making the comparison, again. They're different runners, but Faulk was extremely intelligent and talented, obviously.

"They're built differently, but I would say from a talent and intelligence level, Marshall was that way."

When it came to processing information, Faulk had few peers. The Carver High star finished his NFL career with 12,279 rushing yards and 100 touchdowns, and 6,875 receiving yards and 36 scores.

"It's just understanding the overall aspect of the game," Faulk said this week. "Being able to not just see my job, but the bigger picture. Understanding why things are done, what you're trying to attack on the defense and how you go about getting stuff done. It really helps when you understand that.

"And I understood why we ran plays, why we were attacking people the way we did and if they stopped a play or if the play worked, I knew exactly why. It's one thing to know how to play the game, it's a whole 'nother aspect to understand the game, and there's a whole 'nother aspect to understanding the game that you may know it, but you can't play it. So, very rarely do the two kind of intersect and when they do, it's awesome.

"If you think about football, in a sense, when you first come into the game, you come in talented. You're trying to grow your experience. The quicker you can get your experience, the better and the longer you're going to be. When you're younger, you're at your best, you're at your peak. So you want to learn as fast as you can. You want to be feeling like you know the most and you have the most experience happen in your younger years, so you can spend more time in what's called 'your prime.'"

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Kamara definitely appears to have found the groove in which talent links to experience and knowledge. Faulk said he sees that.

"I look at it through all players," he said. "I think we all have signs that will let us know that mentally, we're more advanced than other people are based on how they react to things, what they do, understanding how to play.

"For Alvin, I know – there's a thing that good runners have. Their eyes and their feet are connected. Guys whose eyes and feet aren't connected, they're always testing stuff out. When your eyes and your feet are connected, you make things look easy. You make reacting and adjusting to things look like, 'Oh, that's what he planned to do.' "

That sounds like an accurate description of what Kamara does, even when it's a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown in which he breaks six tackles, as was the case this season against Green Bay.

"Man, A.K. is dynamic," tight end Jared Cook said. "Definitely one of the best backs that I've ever played with. He can just do so many things and he's so versatile. Not only can he run the ball, he can hit between small gaps, but he can get out of the backfield, he can run (and) catch the ball. And he's a really good route runner.

"So he definitely brings an element to the game that we need in this offense in terms of switching it up and moving him around, getting him on linebackers when needed and getting him in an open space when we need it. That makes it hard for defenses to be able to guess what you're doing or to be able to guess what he's doing when you can be able to move that chess piece around like that."

In Sunday's 38-3 over Tampa Bay, that meant the chess piece was a decoy. On Tre'Quan Smith's 14-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, three defensive backs bit on Drew Brees' pump fake to Kamara in the right flat, while Smith casually sauntered through the maze and caught the pass at the back of the end zone.

"I'd first start with that I enjoy coaching him because I think he enjoys coming to work," Payton said. "He has a smile on his face. He's one of those guys that's well-liked by everyone. You have to keep his attention once in a while where he tends to wander off.

"He and (running back) Latavius (Murray) are different. There's a good fit between the two of them, but you enjoy coaching to begin with in teaching, and you enjoy coaching players where it's that perfect student. I don't completely mean to use that term but they see it, they get it, they understand it, they react the way you want them to. We enjoy coaching regardless of the talent level, but you enjoy coaching real good players."

The best players draw comparisons to past greats. Kamara mainly gets mentioned along the lines of being Faulk-like. It's not a comparison Kamara solicits – he's often deferential and complimentary of Faulk's accomplishments – but it's a link that Faulk understands.

"That's what it's about," Faulk said. "For other people to compare me to people, or people to me, that's what this game is about. That's what sports is about in general.

"If there's one thing that I know I did was, I appreciated the comparisons when they were made, but I wanted to forge who Marshall Faulk was. I wanted to have an identity of how I played the game, when I played the game and have people look at it and say, 'Man, that's unique. That's different.'

"And so in doing that, what that has created for me is, now that you see people play the game the way I played it, it's like, 'That looks like something Marshall Faulk did.' I want Alvin to kind of take what I did, because the game I played was so different than now, and if he can forge his own identity out of this, that's what it's about."

And if Kamara makes a bit of history along the way, all the better, even if he isn't all that interested in acknowledging its presence.

Check out the best moments from New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara in the first three weeks of the 2020 NFL football season.

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