METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara wore a blue NFC Pro Bowl hooded sweatshirt as he walked out of the locker room at team headquarters on Thursday.
It was at once a reminder of how important he remains to the Saints’ offense, and the legal trouble that continues to loom over him.
Kamara, who was arrested in Las Vegas last February because of his alleged role in the beating of a casino patron during Pro Bowl weekend, spoke with media on Thursday for the first time since.
Kamara declined to speak about his case — in which he is charged with felony battery — other than when he said it is not distracting him from his commitments to his team, and won’t prevent him from joining the Saints in London for a game against Minnesota on Oct. 2.
But Kamara welcomed questions about his recent good health and what he views as improved prospects for the Saints offense now that quarterback Jameis Winston is back from a major injury last year, that the offensive line is healthy and that the receiver corps has been revamped.
“I’m definitely healthy,” said Kamara, who had 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns from scrimmage last season as both a runner and receiver, despite missing four games because of a knee injury. “I might have gotten faster. I don’t know. I feel explosive. I feel good.”
Kamara’s health is but one reason he’s optimistic about this season, which for the Saints opens on Sunday at Atlanta.
The Saints offense was beset by injuries to key players last season at skill positions and along the offensive line. Quarterback Jameis Winston missed more than half of last season with a left knee injury. Top receiver Michael Thomas missed the whole season because of complications from ankle surgery. Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, left tackle Terron Armstead, guard Andrus Peat and center Eric McCoy also struggled with injuries.
The Saints, who’d annually been among the NFL’s passing leaders for most of the 15 seasons Drew Brees played quarterback (2006-20), dropped to the bottom of the league in yards passing per game.
That allowed defenses to focus more attention on stopping Kamara, who was playing hurt.
If the Saints have better fortune with injuries this season, that won’t be the case, “and we all know it, so everybody’s ready,” Kamara said.
“I feel like I was sometimes on an island a little bit as far as the focus” of opposing defenses last season, Kamara said. “For a defense, it’s a little bit easier to just, I guess, hone in on one to two guys rather than four or five guys.”
This season, Saints opponents will once again have to defend Thomas, who in 2019 set an NFL record for catches in a season with 149. They’ll also have cover receiver Jarvis Landry, acquired in free agency, and receiver Chris Olave, a first-round draft choice.
“This is what we’re used to seeing: Just high-powered play makers,” Kamara said. “I’m excited because we’re all healthy and we’re all ready and everybody’s just itching to get back on the field together.
“I’m as focused as ever this year because I feel we have the pieces that we need,” he added.
It’s not clear if Kamara’s legal trouble will affect the Saints this season. His case has been delayed more than once and now might not resolve until next year. Generally, the NFL waits for the legal process to play out before handing down discipline.
Regardless, Kamara’s teammates named him one of the Saints’ captains for the first time this season, another nod to how what a prominent player he has become since his offensive rookie of the year campaign in 2017.
“Just to get the title and get that C on my jersey is definitely meaningful,” Kamara said, adding that several Saints veterans have told him they viewed him as a leader even before this season, even though he is not the most outspoken player in the locker room.
“They know I’m not the most vocal dude. I talk when it’s necessary,” Kamara said. “We set a certain standard in this locker room, on this on this team over the years, especially since I’ve been here. So, when I feel like that level of, I guess, competitiveness or grind kind of drops a little bit, that’s when I get to say and give my two cents.”