Saints’ Kamara on early pace for his most productive season

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — With questions about his health and contract put to rest, Saints running back Alvin Kamara has become the center of New Orleans’ offense early this season and set himself up to enjoy a career year.

The fourth-year running back and 2017 offensive rookie of the year leads New Orleans in rushing, receiving and touchdowns through three games, but notes he’d be having more fun doing it if the Saints were winning more.

Kamara has seen two strong performances against the Las Vegas Raiders and Green Bay Packers go for naught in two straight losses that have dropper the Saints to 1-2 as they travel to Detroit this weekend.

“It’s no fun losing. But me just as a player, it’s not fun being injured,” Kamara said, alluding to a knee injury that slowed him for much of last season. “So, obviously, now that I’m healthy, (I’m) definitely having fun, but definitely the main thing (is to) try to get some wins.”

Kamara has 153 yards and three TDs rushing, along with 285 yards and three TDs receiving. He’ll likely be a focal point again with top receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) and tight end Jared Cook (groin) both ruled out.

Kamara has scored twice in each game this season. And if he scores at least twice from scrimmage against Detroit on Sunday, he will join Hall of Famer Jim Brown and former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson as the players in league history with two-plus TDs rushing and or receiving in his team’s first four games.

“Now that I’m healthy, I’m just kind of returning back to my normal self, and feeling good,” Kamara said.

Or maybe he’s the best he’s ever been.

Through his first three seasons, his best, statistically, was 2018 when he had 1,592 yards and 20 touchdowns from scrimmage. For now, he’s on pace for more than 2,300 yards and 30 TDs from scrimmage this season.

Detroit coach Matt Patricia he been trying to drive home to his defensive players how aware they have to be of Kamara’s elusiveness.

“He’s deceptive on how fast he really is,” Patricia said. “He’s such a smooth athlete that sometimes you may take a bad angle. … 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.”

Kamara is coming off a game in which he gained 197 yards from scrimmage, a permance that included a 49-yard run and a 52-yard touchdown on a catch behind the line of scrimmage that could go down as one of the most memorable plays of the entire 2020 NFL season.

Kamara broke four tackles, at one point making himself compact as he lifted both feet off the ground to absorb a heavy hit from the side, and maintained his balance along the sideline. He also avoided another defender by slowing to set up a block by center Erik McCoy.

Saints coach Sean Payton said one Kamara trait that stands out, but cannot be measured in a typical workout, is his “physical balance,” or his ability to “come off contact and stay very upright, and that becomes challenging to tackle. So there’s a size or a strength element that’s maybe undervalued with him.”

But not by the Saints. The day before the regular season began, New Orleans signed Kamara to an extension which essentially commits $50 million to the dynamic running back from the 2021 through 2024 seasons.

McCoy said Saints offensive players have seen the benefits of hustling downfield to block even when it appears Kamara is about to be caught by defenders.

For similar reasons, Brees with regularly throws short to Kamara even if the running back has to make a defender or two miss in order to gain positive yardage.

“You see defenders take angles on him that look like they’re going to be able to make the play and all of a sudden he gets to the edge or he breaks the tackle,” Brees said. “You just kind of shake your head. He’s a special athlete.”

Kamara, meanwhile, values his chemistry with Brees and seems annoyed by criticism of the 41-year-old QB, whose production and efficiency were below usual standards in two of New Orleans first three games.

“Everybody outside of this building has something to say (about Brees) and quite honestly, I don’t really give a damn,” Kamara said. “Drew has proven to be one of the best, if not the best quarterback, year in and year out and I’m expecting the same thing this year.

“When you’re losing, it’s easy to point and point fingers,” Kamara said. “But we’ll get back on track and everybody will shut up.”

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