KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — He’s one of the more beloved players to come through the Tennessee football program.
Alvin Kamara arrived after spending stints at Alabama in 2013 and Hutchinson Community College in 2014. Now after two successful seasons on Rocky Top, Kamara begins his preparation for the next level in the NFL.
The former running back is all-in for training as he prepares for the NFL Draft. There are no days off for dream-chasers, and Kamara spent the early part of Super Bowl Sunday by continuing to train on the sport’s biggest day. The soon-to-be NFL back also took time to discuss his process to the NFL with Saturday Down South.
“I’m down in Miami training,” Kamara told Saturday Down South on Super Bowl Sunday. “A lot of people have me in the second round and a little buzz about the first round, but I try not to look at it.”
Working, training and preparing for the NFL while not paying a lot of attention to what others are saying is what keeps Kamara focused on what he can provide at the next level. Being a versatile back is his ticket to being a factor in the NFL.
Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady essentially described a new position — a “passing back” — when he described the role James White filled so admirably for the Patriots this season.
Kamara, without specifically using the term, sees himself in a similar kind of role. He led all SEC running backs in receptions (40), yards (392) and touchdown catches (4) this past season.
“I feel like that will be my role, kind of like what everyone saw at Tennessee but a little more,” Kamara said. “Being able to catch the ball out of the backfield and carry the ball in between the tackles and also to the outside and to line up in the slot, also something I’ve really worked on is pass protection. It’s a different league, so of course there will be things to work on, but I feel like I am a complete back.”
Kamara, 5-10, 215 pounds, also knows that the NFL is about fit. Fitting in a pro-style offense and understanding how a coaching staff uses a player’s talents will be key.
“I think I will fit in,” he said, “but it also depends on where you end up, too. What a coach wants to do in an offensive scheme is a big part of it.
“A lot of backs are becoming more of a factor in the passing game, so with that being part of my strengths, hopefully I can be with an organization that uses a back like that in the passing game. Talking to teams, they have recognized my versatility and it’s a good thing with the league moving towards complete versatile backs to cause mismatches against defenses.”
NFL Draft analysts certainly have noticed.
Former NFL player turned analyst Mike Mayock, for one, said earlier this month that Kamara has “first-round ability.”
“I don’t know anything about the kid. I don’t know why he left Alabama. I don’t know what his work ethic is or isn’t. All I know is that I watched two tapes and what I saw was a running back with first-round potential,” Mayock told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “That doesn’t mean he is going first round and it’s a long process between now and the end of April. But he has got the physical characteristics you are either born with or you’re not.
“He’s got acceleration, he’s got burst, he’s got balance, he’s got good hands and he can play out wide. What surprised me a little was his play strength was a little bit better than expected. He fits today’s NFL.”
Kamara’s versatility also crosses over into special teams play and what he can provide in the kick and punt return game. He returned a punt for a touchdown in 2015.
“That’s one thing I pride myself in is being versatile, being a weapon on special teams, being able to catch the ball out of the backfield and doing the little things to be a complete player,” he said.
Kamara relishes his time at Tennessee and was proud of the fact he was able to produce on the field while sharing touches in a talented backfield.
“I’m thankful for this past (2016) season,” he said. “I was able to showcase being a complete back and coach Jones always set things up to help the team and play to my strengths. To be in an organization that supports you and better your weaknesses.”
That team-first approach is one reason Butch Jones named Kamara a captain. Not surprisingly, Kamara’s most memorable games were not his best games statistically, but better moments for the team as a whole.
He dominated Texas A&M — 288 total yards, 3 touchdowns — but the Vols lost, so cross that game off the highlight reel.
“I would say the (2016) Georgia game was my most memorable game with the ending it had,” he said. “Florida was a big win and I played my roles, but the Georgia game is what Tennessee fans will remember for a long time with Jauan (Jennings) coming down with the ball.
“The brotherhood and camaraderie through the coaches and players sticks out. Being able to bond with other players was a big part of the success I had at Tennessee.”
Kamara will continue to train and prepare for the NFL draft with the NFL combine slated to begin Feb. 28.