BATON ROUGE — He started with mere appetizers — 10 carries for 58 yards and 10 receptions for another 76 yards through the New Orleans Saints' first three games of the 2017 season that included two losses. There were only four touches in week two and five in week three.
In week five, though, a few days after veteran running back Adrian Peterson was traded to Arizona, rookie third-round choice Alvin Kamara of Tennessee started being given the whole playbook menu and started dining on the main courses.
There were 10 rushes for 75 yards with a memorable hurdle of Detroit cornerback Darius Slay that set up a touchdown in a 52-38 win on Oct. 15. Then 12 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown in the 47-10 win at Buffalo on Nov. 12 and six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown with the two-point conversion to send the Washington game on Nov. 19 into overtime before the Saints won 34-31.
Last week in the loss at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Kamara went Olympian again with a 74-yard touchdown run and six catches for 101 yards with a touchdown and another hurdle over Rams cornerback Kayvon Webster as an announcer compared him to Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses, who won in the same Coliseum in 1984.
Former LSU NCAA champion and Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones has tweeted praise to Kamara.
"Lolo tweeted again, and she said my form is great, so I might need to go to the Olympics or something," Kamara told reporters Wednesday at the Saints facility in Metairie. "I might try that."
"I felt like he wanted to get jumped over, so I just jumped over him," Kamara said of the Rams' Webster. "I've had two in the NFL now, and two in college against Vanderbilt in 2015. It was the same thing. 'All right, I'm just going to jump over the dude.' A lot of it is instinctual."
There were four tacklers around him as he bobbled a pass from quarterback Drew Brees in the final minutes of regulation against Washington. None made the tackle on an 18-yard touchdown.
"I go into Matrix mode," he said. "Him, him, him."
He changes speeds depending on the tackler situation. "It's a lot of down shifting and up shifting," he said.
He surprises himself when he watches his game video.
"I'm like, 'I see what I did there.' It was a a-ha moment."
Who knows what's next? Rookie of the Year? Kamara, a 5-foot-10, 215-pound dynamo who has rushed 77 times for 546 yards and five touchdowns and caught 54 passes for 548 yards and four touchdowns, was named the NFL offensive Rookie of the Month this week. In four November games, he feasted for 303 yards rushing and 291 yards receiving and six touchdowns in all.
"At the beginning of the season, it started off kind of slow just with what was being dished out to me," Kamara said. "But now, my role is evolving. They're seeing that I can process more and more. So, 'Here, lets see if you can do this. Here, let's see if you can do this.' I've just been moving and eating it, and what's next? So, it's been a blessing. It's a lot of info, but I feel like I'm doing pretty good."
The Saints won eight straight games after an 0-2 start largely with Kamara at or near the head of the table before the loss at Los Angeles (8-3). New Orleans hosts NFC South co-leader Carolina (8-3) at 3:25 p.m. Sunday in the Superdome.
Kamara is not a big back, but he is third in the NFL in tackles avoided with 40 in 131 touches, according to the Pro Football Focus website devoted to statistical analysis.
Saints coach Sean Payton plans on feeding Kamara more.
"This kid has got really, really good football intelligence," Payton said Thursday in a teleconference. "He has good transitional speed. He's a guy that learns very quickly."
Kamara, who was not always featured well at Tennessee where he rushed for 596 yards with 392 receiving last year, is not surprised at his season, though others may be.
"I wouldn't say surprising," he said. "Like I said when I first got here, whatever is going to be on my plate, I want to be able to digest it and digest as much as I could. So, that's what I'm trying to continue to do each week."
Another reporter asked later if he was "surprised" at his early success.
"The surprise word," he said. "It's not something in my vocab. I don't really say, 'surprised.' I would say humbled."
And another reporter later asked him if he surprises himself while watching video of his runs.
"No, not the surprise word, but more like, 'Dang, that was a nice play.' You catch yourself, and you rewind it," he said. "That was me last year at this time. I was looking at other players and rewinding their plays. It's cool. It's all fun. It is crazy. It's all happening so fast. I'm trying to just process it and keep moving."
And Payton is trying to keep him grounded on every day but game day.
"Stop," Payton told a reporter who had asked him to compare Kamara to former St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk, who won the NFL offensive rookie of the year award in 1994 with Indianapolis and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Marshall Faulk's a first ballot Hall of Famer," Payton said. "We're not doing that to a rookie running back."
But Payton, who was running backs coach in 1992 and '93 at San Diego State when Faulk was there, did compare Faulk to Kamara somewhat over the summer.
"When I made the comparison, I prefaced it with, 'Hey, not making a comparison to Marshall,'" Payton said. "I'm just saying he's a guy who learns very quickly, and that's how Marshall was. I just don't want to see Marshall Faulk headlined with Alvin Kamara. That's all."
Faulk would be a nice ceiling for Kamara, but he's not sure right now. He's still eating.
"I'm never really satisfied," he said. "I'm always, 'What's next? What's my ceiling like?' I don't know. I just try to keep climbing and climbing and climbing forever."
INJURY REPORT: Saints rookie sensation cornerback Marshon Lattimore (ankle) did not practice Thursday after practicing on a limited basis on Wednesday and is questionable for Sunday's game.
Fellow starting cornerback Ken Crawley (abdomen) may play Sunday after missing the Rams game. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday on a limited basis. Safety Marcus Williams, who left the Rams game with a groin injury, did not practice Thursday and is questionable for the game.
Other players who are questionable after not practicing Thursday are left tackle Terron Armstead (thigh, shoulder) and tight end Coby Fleener (concussion).
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I'll go over there and coach. I see they just offered (Mike) Gundy (Oklahoma State coach) $42 mill. I don't know, that sounds like it's pretty good."
— Saints running back and former Tennessee Volunteer Alvin Kamara on Tennessee's suffering head coaching search. It was definitely a great place to play. That's my school."
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