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Saints' Kamara explains choice to skip voluntary team work, praises new offense at minicamp

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints running back Alvin Kamara rejects the premise that his absence from voluntary practices this offseason indicates a lack of enthusiasm for — or commitment to — learning New Orleans' new offense.

“I’ve been in this eight years," said Kamara, who was selected by New Orleans in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft and wound up being the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. “I’m pretty confident in my ability to pick up on information.”

Kamara practiced for the first time this offseason on Tuesday, the first day of mandatory minicamp. As he's done most of his career, he skipped nine voluntary practices spread over the previous three weeks, opting instead to work out with his personal trainer in Miami.

Kamara speaks fondly of his usual offseason routine, which introduced him to an array of novel drills to work on his balance and agility in addition to strength and conditioning. He credits it for helping him surpass 1,100 yards from scrimmage in each of his seven NFL seasons — and for a slew of highlight-reel scoring runs on which he bounced off, slipped out of or darted around multiple attempted tackles along the way.

Now, however, the Saints have a new offensive coordinator in Klint Kubiak. His scheme represents a departure from the offense that former coach Sean Payton and former coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. — a Payton protege — ran during Kamara’s seven previous NFL seasons.

Saints coach Dennis Allen said it “remains to be seen” if Kamara is a bit behind his teammates in terms of adapting to the new scheme, which emphasizes outside zone runs and an array of play-action passes, with running backs often the intended targets.

“I'm not worried about Alvin really knowing what to do; he's really smart and he's a professional," Allen said. "It's really more about getting the rhythm and the timing ... and how these particular plays need to be run and what that feels like.”

Kamara says he understands there were several reasons why fans and the Saints alike would have liked to see him participate more in the offseason training opportunities offered at Saints headquarters the past month.

The Saints have missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, and Kamara is coming off his least productive season statistically.

“I understand what kind of the word has been — doing something different and everybody being here," Kamara said. “I kind of just stuck with what I know, you know? I don’t think any of my teammates took offense to it, really.”

Kamara’s 694 yards rushing last season were a career low, and his 466 yards receiving were his second fewest in a season. He also missed four games — three because of a suspension and one because of an ankle injury.

“Not even looking at numbers, I just didn’t feel like it was one of one of my better years,” Kamara said.

He also was not shy about questioning the effectiveness of the 2023 offense.

“I just felt like we weren’t where we needed to be,” Kamara said. “I don't think we were doing the best things every week to put ourself in the best position to win.”

Now Kamara says he's encouraged by the Saints' efforts to transition toward the type of offensive scheme that has worked well for defending NFC champion San Francisco, where Kubiak was a top assistant under Kyle Shanahan last season.

“A lot of opportunity out there for me to do different things," Kamara said, expressing admiration for how the Niners deployed similarly versatile running back Christian McCaffrey last season.

“I’m excited for that,” Kamara said. “The most stressful thing for me right now is like, my left rear tire has low pressure. Everything else, I’m good. Like, I feel great, you know? I’m doing what I’ve always done. ... I'm always ready."

NOTES: Saints top cornerback Marshon Lattimore also practiced for the first time this offseason. Like Kamara, he has typically skipped voluntary offseason practices for much of his career.

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