ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The game ball presented to Latavius Murray in the locker room after a Broncos win last weekend meant a great deal.
In part, because the veteran running back can’t really recall receiving that sort of recognition. And also in part, because the reward gave him a chance to reflect for a moment.
Three months ago, the 32-year-old Murray was at home thinking his career may be done. He even started coaching at a local high school, an assignment that lasted all of one day before New Orleans brought him in. Denver later signed him off the Saints practice squad and he's turned into the Broncos' leading rusher this season. He's coming off a 130-yard, one-touchdown performance against Arizona that earned him a coveted game ball.
“I’m able to appreciate that game and these accomplishments a little more. Just knowing the journey,” said Murray, who sat out practice Thursday (precautionary) as the Broncos prepare to play at the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Day in a matchup of 4-10 teams. “Just grateful for the opportunity.”
Murray thought for sure he would be back with Baltimore — or at least some team, anyway — in time for offseason conditioning last spring. At the latest, he figured, by training camp.
After all, in his final game with the Ravens last January, he rushed for 150 yards and a score against Pittsburgh.
But his phone didn’t ring.
“Just was kind of surprised, shocked,” said Murray, who was a sixth-round pick by the Raiders in 2013 following his career at Central Florida. “There’s a lot of doubt that goes into it where it's like, ‘Man, this is the reality. I’m not on a team. I’m at home. I’m training and staying ready, but I’m not getting an opportunity.’"
Murray said he became a volunteer football coach at a local high school, because “in my mind, I was at least preparing for the worst.”
Then, the Saints called in September. He was back in the league.
Murray was on the practice squad for two games, before getting his shot against Minnesota. He ran for 57 yards and a score, but went back on the Saints' practice squad.
That’s when Denver picked him up. He’s helped settle a turbulent backfield situation since a season-ending knee injury to Javonte Williams, followed later by the release of Melvin Gordon.
Murray has rushed for a team-leading 510 yards since joining the Broncos.
“A true workhorse,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “He’s been a true leader. He’s been a great guy. I think that his mentality is some of the best I’ve ever been around. I really mean that.
"Every day he comes to work, he’s focused. Every day he comes on the practice field, he’s lasered in. He’s great with the guys. He has a tremendous knack for ball playing.”
Murray fully believed he still had plenty of yards left in him even as he waited at home for a call. Explosiveness, too, such as on his 35-yard gallop against the Cardinals.
“The old man still has some juice in him,” offensive coordinator Justin Outten cracked.
With his big game Sunday, Murray became one of five active NFL running backs who've rushed for at least 6,000 yards and 50 TDs. It’s a list that also includes Ezekiel Elliott, Mark Ingram II, Derrick Henry and Gordon.
“Obviously, very fortunate to still be able to play and be healthy,” Murray said. “From there, when you are healthy, it’s being productive.”
Murray, who turns 33 in January, has a strong desire to keep playing and hopes he’s showing teams he still can.
“I’d love to be back here next year,” Murray said. “You just don’t know. For me, it’s making sure that I’m taking care of my body and being available for any team.”
Asked how long he envisioned playing, Murray cracked: “I’ll take a ring and can call it quits after that.”
NOTES: OLB Randy Gregory (knee), WR Kendall Hinton (hamstring), CB K’Waun Williams (wrist/knee) and OL Dalton Risner (shoulder/back/foot) didn't practice Thursday. ... OL Tom Compton was placed on injured reserve, coach Nathaniel Hackett said. ... Pat Surtain II became the sixth Broncos cornerback to be selected to the Pro Bowl. “I would have canceled the Pro Bowl if he wasn't a starter," said safety Justin Simmons, who was selected as a first alternate. “He deserved it.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL