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Well, Jonathan Gannon can now take a deep breath and know he won’t have to answer any more questions about when Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray will return to practice after he took that major step Wednesday morning.
It was a question the coach was asked countless times over the last several months and always responded with the familiar “he’ll practice when he’s ready to practice.”
Of course, now there will be questions about when he will be ready to start a game and if Gannon is asked, which surely he will, expect him to say simply, “He’ll play when he’s ready to play.”
It’s clear Murray had already been cleared medically to practice because when asked how Murray reacted when told today was the day, Gannon said, “Well, he told me and said, ‘I’m practicing today.’ I said, ‘Great. See you out there.’”
Asked his reaction, the coach said, “Great. See you out there.’ Obviously, he’s our franchise quarterback, so I was happy about it.”
The news on Murray overshadowed the return of safety Budda Baker to practice after he missed five games because of a hamstring injury suffered in practice two days before the Week 2 game against the Giants.
When will he be comfortable with them playing? The predictable answer Gannon gave was, “We’ll take it day-by-day and see where both of those guys are at relating to playing. Just take it day-by-day.”
As for who will determine when Murray will play, he said, “That’s an organizational decision, but he’s a big part of that.”
Gannon said Murray is “full go” for practice although in the portion of practice open to the media (20 minutes of stretching and individual drills), Murray and practice-squad quarterback Jeff Driskel threw passes to those on the practice squad while current starter Joshua Dobbs and backup Clayton Tune were on another part of the field throwing to the active receivers on the roster.
We don’t know how the reps were apportioned in the “team” part of practice, but the reality is that Dobbs will get most of the snaps and Tune possibly some in preparation for Sunday’s game in Seattle.
So, what makes sense for when Murray will start his first game since Dec. 12, 2022?
It certainly won’t be this week and the following week against the Baltimore Ravens is probably a longshot. The following week is a road game at Cleveland against the Browns, but that would be a hellacious defense for Murray to make his 2023 debut against.
Which brings us to Nov. 12 at home against Atlanta. The Falcons do have a defense that is playing well, but the next four games are against Houston, the Rams, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. No defensive slouches there.
Murray has to play sometime and the sooner the better to deal with the likely rust there will be from his time away from football.
I’ll place my bet on Nov. 12, but won’t be surprised if it happens for an earlier game.
As for Dobbs, who knew this day was coming, he will go about his business like usual with Murray wearing his familiar No. 1 jersey the field instead of working on the side.
“It doesn’t change my approach at all,” he said. “It was great having K1 out there and seeing him running around and everything, slinging it, but it doesn’t change my approach at all. We’re still preparing for Seattle. I have my same approach each and every week. I’ve seen every side of this quarterback thing. My approach never changes no matter what.
“I come in, work hard, prepare, get ready; well, I’m starting of course, but prepare as the starter and then if I’m not the starter preparing as if I’m going to start. My approach doesn’t change, man. It was great to have him back out there and again, we’re excited to prepare for our next opportunity.”
Gannon admitted he’s “curious” to watch and see what Murray will be like as practice reps ramp up, but added, “I know the work that he’s put in. The people that have helped him get to this point you can’t praise enough. The whole medical staff and all that; the performance staff and the doctors. He hasn’t taken a snap in this offense either, so we’ve got to see him do a lot of things, but I know he’s excited to get out there and start playing some football.”
Said wide receiver Hollywood Brown, a teammate of Murray at Oklahoma, “He’s not coming back to be average. He’s coming back to prove a point … (that he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league.”
Senior reconditioning coordinator Buddy Morris put in countless hours not only with Murray but also with tight end Zach Ertz and rookie cornerback Garrett Williams, who also suffered torn ACLs last year.
Gannon had kudos for Morris, saying “Buddy has been instrumental (in Murray’s recovery) and aside from being brilliant, he knows how to work with different athletes. He knows what they’re going through, when to push, when to pull off, when to be positive and when to crack the whip a little bit too. Like I’ve said, that whole side, the medical and performance staff, they’ve done a great job with him. Other guys as well.
“Budda and the injury that he had going into Week 2 there, (for him) to be able to practice today is a huge boost for our team, I think. When those guys have major injuries, to be able to get back and practice to the level that we feel comfortable with that they’re safe and can go perform, it’s guys doing their job at a high level.”
Running back by committee
In the first game this season without James Conner, there were varied personnel groups when the three active running backs were on the field against the Rams.
Keaontay Ingram, Emari Demercado and Damien Williams combined to play 74 snaps with Demercado leading the group with 33. However, he had only three touches, two rushing and one receiving. Ingram, who returned after missing two games because of a neck injury, was in the game for the opening series and played 28 snaps. Williams, who was signed to the practice squad 10 days prior to the game, played 13.
“I thought all three of them did a good job,” Gannon said Monday. I think that we will continue to evaluate that as we go in and start working on the Seattle game plan now. You might see a little tilted one way or the other, but I thought all three of them did a good job when they went in.
“They ran hard. What we’re asking them to do was a little bit different this week.”
The three backs combined for 87 rushing yards on 20 carries and added 25 yards on five receptions.
Ingram ran 10 times for 40 yards and caught two passes for 11 for an average of 4.25 yards per touch. Williams’ 13 snaps resulted in nine touches: eight rushes for 36 yards and one catch for 8, an average of 4.89 per touch.
Demercado, whose role was mostly for protections in the pass game, had two rushed for 11 yards and one reception for six, a 5.67 average per touch.
Gannon likes the “elusiveness” and “power” that Ingram brings to the offense. He added, “He does the right thing, doesn’t turn it over, good ball security and can hit home runs.”
Gannon talked last week about Demercado doing well protecting and said Monday, “He’s a guy that we feel real comfortable with. We feel comfortable with the other guys too, but he’s shown that he’s done a really good job with that in known pass to do a good job with what we’re asking those guys to do in known pass. He’ll keep getting his touches.”
Of Williams, Gannon said, “I thought he did well. I liked the look in his eyes. You can tell he’s played a lot of football before, but he banged some runs in there and created some extra yardage. I look forward to continuing to work with him.
“I think what impresses me, you can tell he’s played in some big-time games and has played well. He wants to play in games, and he knows he can produce at a high level. If he’s in there we need him to produce at a high level so it’s always good to have some guys that have a fire about them that they want to play football.”
Gannon said he liked the way the three active backs were utilized and credited running backs coach Autry Denson for it.
Gannon said, “We had a plan with number of snaps and certain plays and certain personnel groupings and down and distance predicated into that. I liked how Autry rotated them in there. Kind of what we said we wanted to do we got done, especially in the flow of the game, how the game went.”
The running backs room was decreased by one when Tony Jones Jr. was waived Wednesday only nine days after being claimed on waivers from the Saints. Williams, who was elevated from the practice squad for the game against the Rams, could be signed to the active roster.
Attrition at corner
This is the final week of practice for cornerback Garrett Wilson as his 21-day practice window expires Oct. 24 and he could be needed. Antonio Hamilton Sr. did not practice Wednesday because of a groin injury suffered against the Rams, while rookie Kei’Trel Clark was limited because of a hamstring injury that might have happened in practice Wednesday.
Clark missed only three snaps in the first four games before not playing 42 of 82 and 25 of 57 in the next two games.
Asked what the next step in Clark’s progress is, Gannon said, “Consistency on a day-to-day basis. I think that with consistency of practice and in games, consistency of technique, then comes production. One day at a time with him.”
Now, he is dealing with an injury.
Against the Rams, Starling Thomas V, who was claimed on waivers from the Lions on Aug. 30, played 24 snaps (44 percent) after being inactive for the first four games of the season and then playing only on special teams (seven snaps, 26 percent) against the Bengals in Week 5.
Gannon said of Thomas’ play Sunday, “I thought he did a good job. He played a couple of coverages the right way and he was pretty sticky in there. He lost (wide receiver Cooper) Kupp one time, but I thought he did a good job and competed.”
Currently on the practice squad are Bobby Price, who was elevated for the game against the Rams, but played only on special teams, Quavian White and Divaad Wilson.
Bye bye Myjai
Outside linebacker Myjai Sanders, a third-round pick in 2022 (100th overall), was waived Tuesday and claimed on waivers by the Texans. He had dealt with a thumb injury during training camp.
Sanders was not on my projected 53-man roster at the end of training camp, but what was odd is that he made the initial roster and was then placed on reserve/injured with the eligibility to return. He began his practice window last Thursday and thus was waived after only two practices.
Did something happen behind the scenes that hastened his departure from a crowded outside linebackers room? Perhaps.
When asked about the decision Wednesday, Gannon would only say, “Best thing for the team, truthfully. That’s all decisions with the roster and moving parts and all those things, but I feel good about the guys that we have in that room, and it was the best thing for the team.”
Sanders heads to a team that plays a 4-3 defense, so the fit seems suspect.
Charting the snaps (snaps/percentage; starters in bold)
*Indicates player that did not play from scrimmage, but participated on special teams
OFFENSE (76 snaps, 18 players)
Quarterbacks: Joshua Dobbs (76/100)
Did not play: Clayton Tune
Practice squad: Jeff Driskel
Reserve/physically unable to perform: Kyler Murray (practicing)
Running backs: Emari Demercado (33/43), Keaontay Ingram (28/37), Damien Williams (13/17; elevated from practice squad)
Inactive: Tony Jones Jr. (waived)
Practice squad: Corey Clement
Reserve/injured: James Conner (eligible to return after Week 9)
Wide receivers: Marquise Brown (68/89), Michael Wilson (67/88), Rondale Moore (50/66), Greg Dortch (16/21), Zach Pascal (11/14)
Practice squad: Andre Baccellia, Kaden Davis, Jeff Smith
Tight ends: Trey McBride (44/58), Zach Ertz (35/46), Geoff Swaim (15/20)
Inactive: Elijah Higgins
Practice squad: Blake Whiteheart, Bernhard Seikovits (international exemption)
Offensive linemen: LT D.J. Humphries (76/100), C Hjalte Froholdt (76/100), RG Will Hernandez (76/100), RT Paris Johnson Jr. (76/100), LG Elijah Wilkinson (57/75), LG Dennis Daley (19/25)
Did not play: T Kelvin Beachum, G/C *Trystan Colon
Inactive: C/G Keith Ismael, T Carter O’Donnell
Practice squad: Jackson Barton, Marquis Hayes, Hayden Howerton (injured)
DEFENSE (57 snaps, 19 players)
Defensive linemen: DE Jonathan Ledbetter (35/61), NT Kevin Strong Jr. (28/49), DE Dante Stills (27/47), NT Leki Fotu (20/35), Roy Lopez (19/33)
Practice squad: Eric Banks, Phil Hoskins, Ben Stille
Reserve/injured: DE L.J. Collier (eligible to return), DE Carlos Watkins (eligible to return)
Linebackers: ILB Kyzir White (57/100), OLB Zaven Collins (37/65), ILB Josh Woods (34/60), OLB Dennis Gardeck (26/46), OLB Cameron Thomas (25/44), OLB Victor Dimukeje (18/32), OLB BJ Ojulari (18/32)
Did not play: ILB *Krys Barnes, ILB *Owen Pappoe, ILB *Ezekiel Turner
Inactive: OLB Jesse Luketa
Practice squad: TYyreek Maddox-Williams
Reserve/injured: OLB Myjai Sanders (designated for return/practicing; waived)
Defensive backs: CB Marco Wilson (57/100), S K’Von Wallace (57/100), S Andre Chachere (57/100), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (45/79), CB Kei’Trel Clark (32/56),CB Starling Thomas V (25/44), S Joey Blount (10/18)
Did not play: S *Qwuantrezz Knight, CB *Bobby Price
Inactive: S Jalen Thompson (injured)
Practice squad: CB Bobby Price, CB Quavian White, CB Divaad Wilson
Reserve/injured: S Budda Baker (practicing)
Reserve/non-football injury: CB Garrett Williams (practicing)
SPECIAL TEAMS (27 snaps, 31 players)
LB Ezekiel Turner (24/89), LB Krys Barnes (24/89), LB Victor Dimukeje (18/67), LB Owen Pappoe (18/67), CB Bobby Price (18/67; elevated from practice squad), S Joey Blount (18/67), WR Zach Pascal (17/63), LB Dennis Gardeck (13/48), LB BJ Ojulari (13/48), WR/RS Greg Dortch (11/41), CB Starling Thomas V (11/41), CB Kei’Trel Clark (10/37), S Andre Chachere (10/37), TE Geoff Swaim (9/33), NT Leki Fotu (9/33), K Matt Prater (7/26), RB Emari Demercado (7/26), P Blake Gillikin (6/22), LS Aaron Brewer (6/22), TE Trey McBride (6/22), DE Dante Stills (6/22), LB Cameron Thomas (6/22), LB Josh Woods (6/22), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (4/15), S Qwuantrezz Knight (4/15), G Elijah Wilkinson (3/11), C Hjalte Froholdt (3/11), T Paris Johnson Jr. (3/11), G Will Hernandez (3/11), C/G Trystan Colon (3/11), G Dennis Daley (1/4)
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD
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