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New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara defying description as he embarks on record-setting pace

Saints teammate Terron Armstead: 'He's Black Panther-like'


Alvin Kamara believes he can keep this up, and there doesn't seem to be much reason to doubt him.

The double-take numbers that the New Orleans Saints' decorated running back has stacked through the first three games – a league-leading six touchdowns, a league-leading 438 yards from scrimmage, and a healthy 7.6-yards per touch – may cool a little, if for no other reason than record-setting receiver Michael Thomas soon will return to the lineup after a two-game absence.

But Kamara, who averages 4.9 yards per carry on 31 rushing attempts and 10.6 yards on 28 catches, with three scores on the ground and three through the air, has more where that come from as the Saints (1-2) prepare to play the Lions (1-2) on Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit.

"That's why I worked so hard this offseason, just trying to get back healthy and try to come back better," Kamara said Wednesday. "That's my goal every year, come back better than I was."

Take "vintage" Kamara, increase it by 40 to 50 degrees, and that's probably the temperature at which Kamara is cooking.

He's on a 32-touchdown pace, which would top LaDainian Tomlinson's NFL single-season record of 31 from 2006, and would shatter the franchise single-season mark of 18, which Kamara jointly holds with Dalton Hilliard.

"I feel great," said Kamara, who dealt with ankle and knee injuries last season that considerably slowed him, when he scored six touchdowns totaled 1,330 yards from scrimmage and averaged 5.3 yards per touch. "I think that's the biggest thing that I've been focused on, just getting back healthy. Blessed to be able to do that, and we're rolling. Trying to get the wins, of course, but I'm feeling good personally.

"I think last year I started off great and unfortunately, got injured. This year, coming back, it's something I had to prove to myself, just to get back to regular form."

Regular form is a combination of elusiveness, speed, power and balance – description-defying balance – that assures he's on every opponents' radar.

"I think the one trait that – until you see him on the field – the one trait is his physical balance," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "He's got a skill set that can come off contact and stay very upright, and that becomes challenging to tackle. There's a size or a strength element that's maybe undervalued with him."

"I think obviously he's going to run the ball, and he's extremely good at the run game, and I think the stretch game that they run handles a lot of things that he does well," Lions Coach Matt Patricia said. "He has great vision, he has great bursts, he's explosive. He can get through the line of scrimmage quickly. So he's a hard guy to tackle – we all know that. Those are the things I think they do well in the run game.

"Then the pass game, he's just dynamic. You get the ball in his hands in space, whether it's the wide routes, the checkdowns – they'll empty him out, send him vertical. He has tremendous speed. Sometimes I think he's deceptive on how fast he really is or how quick he's moving. He's such a smooth athlete that sometimes you may take a bad angle or poach angle and you see a lot of guys miss tackles on him from that standpoint.

"You really have to do a great job to close that space, but just know how quick and dangerous he is to be able to cut across your face and get back into that open field. Really great player for them."

There was no better example of the union of Kamara's instinct and ability than his 52-yard touchdown reception in New Orleans' last game, a 37-30 loss to Green Bay last Sunday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

After quarterback Drew Brees scanned for a possible deep pass, he instead was forced to settle for a checkdown to Kamara, who was several yards behind the line of scrimmage and had a defender bearing down as the ball arrived.

The rest, Kamara best can unpack.

"Honestly, I'm looking at Drew and I'm waiting for the ball, but I'm (peripheral vision on) the defender at the same time," Kamara said. "I'm knowing he's got the angle to close on me, and I know I've got to come back to the ball, so that's the first thing I'm thinking – 'Come back to the ball, and I can make him miss.'

"So, come back to the ball, he dives at my ankles (and slides off Kamara), and I'm looking upfield and (center) Erik (McCoy) just started taking off. At first I was about to start sprinting, I see Erik and I'm like, 'Oh, let me let him go.' Let him get out in front of me, I saw a smaller defender – I think it was a safety or a corner – I knew he was going to try to cut Erik.

"He went low, Erik kind of engulfed him. Moved around that, other guy coming from the inside and I'm like, 'If I can just get past this, I'm going to score.' Kind of absorbed that hit (after hurdling McCoy and the other defender), he didn't wrap up, so the rest was history."

Touchdown, on perhaps the most riveting play of his career.

"Alvin is amazing and I've always spoken out about how I feel about AK," left tackle Terron Armstead said. "He's a special talent, generational talent. He's Black Panther-like. His balance is unreal. Just his anticipation and contact like the way he prepares his body to absorb contact. I've always been a big fan of his and for great reason."

"The play he made on the long touchdown pass was remarkable," Payton said. "It was a great effort by him, and a great effort by a few guys doing downfield."

Partly, Kamara's role was attributable to the offseason preparation he undergoes with his trainer, Dr. Sharif Tabbah, in Florida.

When Tabbah saw the touchdown reception – the longest of Kamara's career – he recognized the work.

"When we look at the first tackle he broke – someone grabbed him, kind of slipped down to the ankle and he ended up kind of stumbling," Tabbah said. "(One of the offseason drills) was one where we were doing a single-leg reactive drill, so we have different lights on the ground that are flashing, and he has to jump to wherever the light is, but he had to do it all on a single leg. And it was like, a minute long.

"So it's a lot of reactive single-leg explosion, but also power endurance. So having to hop around on one leg from this corner to that corner, and turn his body and flip his hips to be able to read where the next light was going to come from, so now when someone hits him and tries to tackle him and he's hopping on that one leg, he's confident in that ability. It's not like his center of mass is thrown off or his balance is thrown off. So, that was really cool to see.

"To me, one of the most impressive ones was that fourth attempted tackle, which he had hurdled one guy and then while he's in the air, he takes contact and lands on his feet like nothing happened, and just keeps going straight. That, to me, was the most impressive because we do so much – everyone says, 'OK, what's all this crazy balance stuff for? And all this balancing on a ball. Oh, it doesn't translate to football.'

"But what you're doing is, you're teaching core engagement and dynamic activation of hip stabilization and core stabilization and just body awareness. So now when your feet are in the air – that's even worse than balancing on a ball because now you're not even touching anything – how do you make sure that that contact doesn't just send you flying? You learn how to have strong core engagement, accept an external force knocking you out of your center of mass, and be able to say, 'Boom, OK, no problem, I'm on my feet again, I'm just keeping it moving.' We totally did a lot of things for those types of situations. So it was really cool to see."

It's the kind of thing Detroit is preparing to see, the kind that Kamara said he has more of.

"The guy's highly, highly productive, and (Drew Brees) is really good at – if he doesn't like what he sees down the field, he can be quick, or he can be late and get the ball in the guy's hands," Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. "Once it's in his hands, it takes everybody to get the guy on the ground.

"Guy's very dangerous with the ball in his hands. We've got to do a good job of putting the players in position so we don't get exposed there."

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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