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Saints program cover story: Versatility and flexibility a trademark of Alvin Kamara

Alvin Kamara is a playmaker. The third year running back has been one of the most versatile weapons on the New Orleans Saints offense, and he makes it look effortless.

He lets his play on the field do most of the talking for him.

He does his good deeds. This Thanksgiving, Kamara gave away 800 turkeys to families in the New Orleans area.

He trains in the offseason and his unconventional workouts went viral. He says it is the simple factor of knowing what his body needs to be prepared for game time.

"It's just something I have to do," Kamara said.

And just like the rest of us, he faces adversity.

Kamara sat out two games for the first time in his professional career with ankle and knee injuries. He missed Weeks 7 and 8, but both were wins and the team was able to keep a six-game win streak alive.

"I don't have a lot of experience with sitting and watching," he said. "It's a lot of times where I'm sitting and I'm like, 'I wish I was in; I wish I could have done this or done that,' or what I would have done in a certain situation.

"But it gives you a chance to kind of sit back and slow the game down in your head even more. You come back with a different type of patience and a different type of focus. It's good, but nobody wants to be out."

Originally a third-round pick out of Tennessee, Kamara has been a shining star for New Orleans which, since the 2017 season, has seen a resurgence.

Before Kamara suffered his own injuries, the Saints took another blow to its offense when quarterback Drew Brees suffered a thumb fracture in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams.

The Black and Gold didn't skip a beat with Teddy Bridgewater. During a three-game stretch where Kamara was healthy and Bridgewater made his first three starts, he ranked sixth in the NFL with 354 total yards from scrimmage and added three touchdowns, serving to increase the signal-caller's comfort level.

"We knew we had to rally, and we did what we had to do to keep the season on lock and keep it going," Kamara said. "We still have to play football no matter what."

Luckily, the Saints have no shortage of talent on its offense. Kamara is the team's leading rusher with 125 carries for 587 yards (4.7 avg.) and also ranks fourth among NFL running backs in receptions with 64 grabs for 444 yards, ranking second on the Saints in receiving.

Even when he isn't making big plays, the additional defenders he has to account for allows his teammates to make big plays instead. Case in point was the Thanksgiving night win at Atlanta, when Kamara kept the chains moving with 11 carries for 61 yards (5.5 avg.) and four receptions for 23 yards. Coverages on Kamara played a role in quarterback Taysom Hill scoring receiving and rushing touchdowns, especially a 30-yard run where Hill took advantage of Atlanta's focus on Kamara to run for paydirt in the first quarter.

"It was one of those weeks I was really excited about (the game plan)," said Hill, recounting the division-clinching win. "I think when you have guys like Mike Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook, the list goes on, it kind of creates opportunities for little ol' me, because there is so much attention that is put on those guys, and Coach is one of the best at being creative and putting guys in positions to be successful. I got lucky because I was that guy tonight."

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater led the Saints to five victories and without Kamara, the Saints looked to running back Latavius Murray to carry the load.

Just like Bridgewater shined in Brees' absence, Kamara was spelled flawlessly by Latavius Murray, allowing him to come back strong from his injuries after a bye. In the two games which Kamara missed, Murray ran for 221 yards on 48 carries with three touchdowns. He caught 14 passes for 86 yards with one touchdown. Kamara appreciated his load being picked up for that stretch as he properly rehabilitated for the team's stretch run.

"It's going to keep moving," Kamara said. "It's a hungry team. We find a way to win. We prepare every week the same as if everybody is up. You see what we did when Drew (Brees) was gone; it's a next-man-up mentality. Latavius handled his business, as I knew he would. We've just got one thing in mind, and that's winning. We find a way. I knew (Murray) could. He's a good back. He's done it elsewhere. He played in Oakland; (had a) Pro Bowl year in Oakland. I think it was just a matter of being out there and doing it. I think he felt good, I talked to him after every game, (and) talked to him during the week. He did a great job."

Kamara isn't a stranger to sharing his workload, an arrangement that hopefully keeps him and Murray fresh for the remainder of the season. He spent his first two seasons splitting backfield duties with former Saints running back Mark Ingram. During his rookie campaign he had fewer carries than Ingram, but he caught 81 passes and set the club's receiving yardage record at the position with 826 yards.

And so grew the dynamic duo, one-two punch that the Saints had in the backfield. Kamara took home the NFL's Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year after displaying his versatility and elusiveness throughout the season and has participated in the Pro Bowl each time.

There was a shift this season when Ingram opted to go to Baltimore and the Saints brought in Murray from Minnesota.

The initial question was how New Orleans would use the strengths of both Kamara and Murray to continue their productivity. The blending seems to set up for the stretch run with a healthy Kamara combining with Murray, who grows more and more comfortable in the Saints offense each week.

"Latavius and I had a conversation about this early in the season, probably the second or third game," Kamara said. "And I was telling him, the balance of the plays, it's going to eventually balance out. I think it's an unselfish team. When we get down this stretch, it is going to be even more effective. So however it shakes out, it shakes out. I'm ready. It's not like I'm selfish; I don't need the ball every play. He's fully capable, too, so I think we'll get a good balance going. It's going to be hard to stop."

Kamara grew up in Atlanta, Georgia watching the styles of running backs like Marshall Faulk and Walter Payton. There wasn't one running back he specifically focused on.

"I didn't really model my game after anybody," he said. "I just watched. I tried to take a piece of all their games and put it in my game."

He doesn't play like any other running back. He hurdles defenders, he doesn't always go down with just one hit, and just when they think they have him, opposing teams can't figure out how to contain him.

These are the qualities that make Kamara special.

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