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There’s growing sentiment among the Cardinals that quarterback Kyler Murray could begin practicing with the team as early as Wednesday or next week at the latest.
Currently on reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) and not having practiced since suffering a torn ACL last December, once Murray is practicing again, that starts a 21-day window in which he can be activated to the 53-man roster at any time. At the end of the 21 days, he either has to be activated or stay on PUP for the remainder of the season.
It is possible if he’s not totally ready to play after those three weeks, but if close, that he still could be activated.
That would stop for now the persistent guessing that has often sucked the air out of the room to the extent that some claimed he won’t play at all this season.
While that can’t be totally discounted, the reality is that wouldn’t be good for Murray or the team as it relates to his future beyond this season. Every indication is that Murray wants to play badly and so do the Cardinals.
Last Friday, Gannon was asked if the decision to begin the practice window is related to wanting to ensure he will be ready to play in 21 days.
He said, “It plays into it, but it’s not the deciding factor. We have a plan of when we want to open his window and that’s going to come from him first, but I like where that’s at. Again, he’s improving every day. That is a part of the equation, but that’s not the end-all, be-all. Like you have to play in three weeks when we open up your window. That’s not the case, that’s not how we’re treating it. There’s all kinds of different scenarios where he might play a little quickly; it might take him a little longer. And that’s OK.”
Then, during his weekly Monday appearance on ArizonaSports 98.7 this week, Gannon said, “He’s doing a good job. I like the week that he had and we’ve got to kind of see here, next couple days, see how tonight goes, how tomorrow goes, again, not rushing that. Making sure that he feels good about going out there, but he’s trending in the right direction.”
Asked what the team wants to see from Murray before he is on the practice field, Gannon said, “Just to make sure, before the mental gets put on him of playing football, to make sure the physical is right. Just all the different things that he does as a player and what he wants to be able to do playing the position, make sure that we can simulate that as much as we can without him being out there playing football, but that he feels comfortable with everything that he’s going to need to be able to do to function.”
Does Gannon believe he’s mentally ready now?
“I do,” the coach said. “But you got to play football, too. We understand there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve, a new system for him. He hasn’t taken a snap in this offense. I like the plan with kind of how we have it structured and the work that he’s been putting in during practice, in meetings, the extra time spent in the morning and at night. I mean, this guy is a competitor. He’s doing a lot to get himself as mentally and physically ready as he can before he goes out there and practices. And I really appreciate him for that because he puts the work in, I know that.”
Those of us that attend practices every day see Murray on a side field with senior conditioning coordinator Buddy Morris doing everything possible to get physically ready.
On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Drew Petzing expounded on the issues that will be front and center when Murray starts practicing, especially with getting the reps he needs while starter Joshua Dobbs is preparing for a game.
“It’s a unique task,” Petzing acknowledged. “It’s something we knew at some point was going to be something we’re going to deal with. Something we dealt with last year in Cleveland (where he was the quarterbacks coach) in a similar situation, so we have a plan in place collectively, from him to the training staff to the coaching staff to make sure that he is getting as much work as humanly allowed within the rules so that when he does step back on the field he’s ready to go.”
In 2022, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was facing an 11-game suspension, but he was with the team throughout the offseason and in training camp learning the offense. When he was reinstated, Watson was immediately installed as the starter for the final six games.
Noting that difference, Petzing said, “It creates a unique situation because he (Murray) hasn’t had any reps from that standpoint. He’s done a great job of locking in the meeting room, asking questions. But there’s going to be a learning curve there. It’s not going to be like hit the ground running first day you’re on the field. Certainly, that’s something I’ve talked to him about, I’ve talked to the offense about. He’s a great player and he’s played at a really high level, (but) even if we were in the same offense there would be a learning curve.
“You haven’t done something in a long time, there’s going to be some rust to knock off. The pace of the game, no matter what you prepare for in practice is always going to be different when you hit the field on Sunday, so that’s something that we have to prepare for mentally, he’s gotta get ready for it mentally and I think we’ve put a plan in place to do that.”
Asked about that plan, Petzing said, “I’m not going to get into specifics, but the guy who’s playing the game has gotta get ready to go. That’s priority No. 1; always will be. But there’s extra time in the day, there’s downtime during practice, there’s other windows within the rules where we are allowed to make sure that he is getting his work physically and mentally so that he feels like he’s getting those reps and getting ready to go.
“And a lot of that’s being done with the backup (Clayton Tune) during the week right now.”
Asked what he has seen from Murray when he was playing, Petzing said, “A lot of that is what we watched when we first got here. Watching their tape, getting a feel for their players. Certainly have an extremely high opinion of him as a player, as a person, what he’s capable of. I mean, he’s a franchise quarterback and there’s not a lot of them out there. So, whenever that happens, really excited to see him get back on the field because certainly we know what he’s capable of and just watching him put in the work and watching how he goes about his day; just excited to see it all come to fruition.
As for how he will feel when that first game arrives, Petzing tempered the enthusiasm a tad when he said, “It’s certainly something that we’ve talked through; talked with him, talked with the staff, but at the same time it’s not like, hey we’ve got to throw a million things at him and expect it to go well. I think it’s gotta be a concerted effort to say, ‘Hey, let’s make sure we’re doing the things he does well; not overload him, not overloading the offense.’
“We still gotta go out there and run the ball. We gotta block, we gotta catch; all the other things that go along with it. I think that’s really important to keep in mind for the other guys in the room, too. It doesn’t change any part of your role or your job, so I think it’s kinda finding that balance. Certainly excited to see him out there, but there’s a lot of other things we gotta stay focused on if we’re gonna get where we want to go.”
It was notable to hear Petzing mention the high opinion he has of Murray “as a person.” There’s no shortage of contrary opinions, largely from those who don’t know him or aren’t close to the situation.
That was the subject of a recent interview Colin Cowherd had with former Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy, who began by saying, “Kyler Murray’s different. Greatest high-school quarterback some say ever out of Texas. He came out of high school as a rock star. He was a rock star Heisman guy at Oklahoma. He plays too much video games. He’s aloof. He’s blah, blah, blah, blah blah. (Yes, he had five blahs!)
“You were around him. I don’t love everything about him. I’ve got good sources on it. Should I be concerned at all that I can trust him for four years; practice, game commitment. Is he? Or is he just talented?”
“Kyler is extremely talented,” McCoy said and then repeated his high-school exploits and even mentioned Murray’s baseball ability. “Make no mistake, he’s one of the most talented people I’ve been around and probably the most. I think what people don’t understand about him – for whatever reason – is he is a hard worker. He does care about the game. He’s super competitive, whether it’s we’re throwing balls in a trash can in practice or in the game.”
McCoy believes Murray is an easy target for critics.
“I think right now he’s just kinda being a punching bag. Everybody’s talking, ‘Can he do this, can he do that? New coaching staff, coming off an ACL. He’s a playmaker. He runs around.’
“I would not hedge my bets against him. I think he’s gonna come back, he’s gonna be just fine. I know he wants to play. He’s going to know when he’s healthy. I enjoyed my time with him. I felt like we had a great quarterback room. Lots of good conversations always and he never really let the outside noise kinda come in our room and what we were doing.”
That outside noise surely won’t disappear suddenly. In fact, there’s no reason to think it won’t go away for a long time. The Cardinals and Murray hope the true noise will be what he does on the field as the football organization works to build a sustainable future.
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