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To say the least, it’s been a long road for Kyler Murray since he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee on Dec. 12 against the New England Patriots and underwent surgery 22 days later.
Shortly it will be seven months since the surgery and through the ups and downs, the Cardinals quarterback has kept his head down and worked while still not having a clue of when he will be cleared to practice and then play.
Reflecting on his emotions at the moment the injury happened on Monday Night Football, in his first media session Saturday since the injury, Murray said, “I knew it was something I’d never experienced in the moment. At that point, it’s get checked out, what is it, hope to hear the best news possible and it ends up being what you don’t want it to be, so at that point gather the thoughts and all the emotions, all the frustrations throughout the season. It is what it is at that point, so how can we get better, (have) the surgery and what’s the plan from there.”
When asked about a dark hole he might have found himself in, Murray said, “After I got hurt, just laying in bed with it elevated, it actually didn’t hurt that bad at that time. You get the surgery and nobody can really prepare you for the pain or not being able to go to sleep; just not being able to move; really have everybody take care of you pretty much, so wasn’t really ready for that.
“Everybody tried to warn me about it, but if you haven’t gone through it, you don’t really know what to expect. But got better every day; that’s a positive. But two weeks of hell, two weeks were pretty bad, but it got better.”
After that came the incremental steps, which included getting over several mental hurdles.
“This whole thing is kinda mental,” he said. “The first time I bent my knee, PT (physical therapist) had to bend it for me because I was too scared to do it. I was at a UFC event and was talking to Joe (Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow). He tore his (during the 2020 season). He told me one thing he dealt with was being hesitant in the pocket.
“I think that’s something that every athlete, you get hurt, you’re a little scared to run the first time you pull a hammy. But with reps, confidence comes, even in the weight room. The first time I do it, I’m hesitant. The first time I jumped, I was hesitant. But we’re preparing the body, preparing the mind to do those things so I do think the first time I’m out there, maybe I might be (hesitant), but with the reps I think the confidence will grow and grow.”
Still, Murray insisted he didn’t truly learn anything about himself.
“Nothing,” he said. “If anything, I just gained more resiliency, just kind of a bullet-proof mindset. I was already confident. Really didn’t give a fuck about what other people thought about me or said about me. But this is different. This is kinda you and you, and no one really knows what you’re going through but yourself and whoever you’re working out with. Buddy (Morris, senior conditioning coordinator) sees what I go through every day. He kinda puts me through the pain, but nobody really sees it, so I think everything happens for a reason and I believe that.
“You get out what you put into it and I’ve been going every single day as hard as I can go along with the plan put in place.”
That plan included several levels because while rehabbing, he also had to be engaged as much as possible with new coach Jonathan Gannon as well as learning the new scheme implemented by first-time offensive coordinator Drew Petzing knowing he wouldn’t be able to be on the field during the offseason and the opening of training camp.
He acknowledged it is an “unusual start (to training camp), having to watch everything. Same as I did during (offseason) camp though, so it’s not a bad thing to have to sit back and watch and try to make the most out of this and make it a positive.
“I feel good, getting better each and every day, so just trying to be there for my teammates right now and just learn as much as possible before I do stuff on the field. I get to do what I love every day; play quarterback in the NFL. Did I get hurt? Yeah. Did I experience something no one wants to experience? Yeah. But it’s nothing for me to get up and work out every day. I was already doing that before I got hurt.
“So the fact that, oh, now I’m rehabbing a knee, cool. Now it’s to get back to who I was and be able to play at a higher level.”
So, when will that be? That’s where it gets murky.
“I have no answer for you,” Murray admitted. “I don’t have a timetable or whatever. Just taking it one day at a time.”
He also made clear because he’s never dealt with an injury like this that he doesn’t know how much practice time he’ll need before playing.
If that’s close to the start of the regular season and after it begins, there’s a double-edged sword of getting Murray ready to play while the starting quarterback has to have the necessary preparation time for the upcoming game.
Petzing acknowledged that everyone will have to deal with it.
He said, “That will be something we have to work through as an organization, and you have to do both in a limited amount of time. I think it’s going to be being creative, finding time to make sure those guys get the prep they need to play and that Kyler is also coming along so he’s banking as many physical reps as he can prior to hitting the field.
“Obviously dealt a little but with that last year in Cleveland with Deshaun Watson) and saw different ways to do that and some things that worked and some things that didn’t. And it’s going to be different by people, by system and by play, so we’re going to have to be creative when that comes up.”
At the start of camp, Gannon said, “He’s going good. He started on PUP and he’s progressing. I love the plan we have moving forward. He did an excellent job this summer. It’s an injury that kind of goes (up and down). He has really good days, he has bad days too, just like anybody else who has had this.”
He added that Murray will be ready “when he tells me.”
Murray had the same sentiment. He said, “Every athlete that’s dealt with an injury like this; it’s just kind of one of those things where when the athlete knows, they know. Obviously, me being the competitor I am, do I want to miss any time? No, that’s not on my mind. But we’re not even in August yet. So, you know, like I said, I’m taking it one day at a time.
“It’s the only thing I can do. Just try to get the mental reps, try to spit out the calls as much as possible and just do as many things as possible for when it’s actual real-live bullets and I’m the one out there, because it is a new system. It is a lot more wordy than we’ve been accustomed to. It’s getting there though.”
Murray is so confident, he scoffed at the notion that he’s behind because of not being on the field.
“No, no, I don’t feel behind at all,” he said. “I’m picking it up pretty fast, pretty well. I think the coaches would say so as well. We’re doing things to allow me to learn it faster. If I wasn’t taking the reps mentally and just spitting it out at home, in the mirror, to the coaches, whatever it is in the meetings, then I’d probably be behind, but the fact that we’re on it constantly doing it, it’s been easy.”
It will surely be important that Murray not return too soon. That was potentially the case in 2021 when he returned to play after missing three games because of a high-ankle sprain. Last season, he tweaked his hamstring, but continued playing in that game and the next week before injuring it further and missed only two games. He then suffered the knee injury three games later.
He gets that.
“I wouldn’t want to go out there and hurt the team or hurt myself,” Murray said. “The advice I’ve gotten from a lot of people around me is, obviously, to go when you are ready. Don’t listen to outside noise. Don’t feel pressured to come back because of this situation or that situation. Whenever you’re ready, you’ll know you’re ready. Like I said, I haven’t dealt with this, but I feel when that time comes, I’ll know.”
On the football side, Murray had some eye-opening things to say about the new coaching staff and had a back-handed slap at the way things were with Kliff Kingsbury as coach.
When asked about the presence of a new offense, he said, “I don’t think it’s necessarily the scheme. I think it’s how it’s being coached. Coach (Lincoln) Riley (at Oklahoma) didn’t run this offense, but he coached the shit out of it. He coached it very well, where everybody understood what they were supposed to be doing. If they’re doing this, we’re doing this. If we get this look, we’re going here.
“It’s just the details of everything. Every little detail matters and I think that’s something that I know we were missing. So now, OK cool, we’re under center. Now we got a new coach, we got a new system, it can be executed the same way. I just think the way he’s coaching the details of it, Drew’s done a great job. We’re all in the same room hearing it from one mouth. It’s just a lot different. I feel great about where we’re going.”
Colt McCoy, who is expected to be the starter until Murray is ready, noted Monday how different things are, mentioning there are no more hand signals and non-verbal communication. Being in the huddle consistently helps that.
Asked about that recently, Gannon was almost giddy expounding on it and said, “The huddle is sacred.”
As Murray said, “Everybody’s just trying to win; we’re all trying to be on the same page. If you mess up this little detail, we’ll hold you accountable for it (if) you miss a block, you miss a throw, you blitz in the wrong gap. Everyone understands what that guy was supposed to do, so we’re all on the same page. It’s getting preached to everyone, not just one person, and I think the communication throughout this whole thing has been great. It’s been awesome. Everybody knows what we’re all supposed to be doing; everybody’s on the same page.”
Last week, left tackle D.J. Humphries was asked about a culture shift on the team and he answered quickly that it’s been a “culture shock.”
So, where does that come from?
“It’s JG. That’s it,” Humphries said. “You know. You met him. It’s either you’re going to be like that or you’re going to go home. It’s that simple. That’s the mentality, so it makes it easy. Especially when you got older guys like me and Budda (Baker) and all those guys that are buying into the system.”
Asked about Humphries’ comment, Murray agreed, saying, “It comes down to accountability. The communication. Not only that, he knows football, he coaches it. Guys that already know football get even smarter. The guys that may not be on the same level as some guys that have played a lot of years; Zach Ertz, a rookie, everyone’s getting smarter. He’s teaching football. He’s teaching the scheme.
“And if you don’t understand, it’s OK. We’re in a meeting and he calls you out and you don’t get it, ‘OK we know you don’t know it. At this point, we don’t need you to know it right now. The season’s not here yet, but when the season comes and we’re on the field, you gotta know it.’ So I just think he’s a real genuine guy, relates to everybody and as far as what we’re doing right now, I love what he’s doing.”
Ertz is also coming back from a torn ACL suffered a month before Murray and the duo were rehab partners throughout the offseason.
Ertz said at the opening of camp, “I told him the other day our chemistry when we get back on the field together is going to be remarkable. I’m not surprised (at Kyler’s progress). I think everyone has a chip on their shoulder from last year and then when you are hurt, it counts us out as well. We both have chips on our shoulders.”
Murray appears to have been humbled by the experience and become self-aware, while also being impressed by the leadership above him. So, finally, he was asked about becoming a better leader.
He said, “I think with the things Coach Gannon and (general manager) Monti (Ossenfort) have put into place, there’s structure from top to bottom. It’s a lot more detail-orientated; attention to detail. It allows me, being the guy that I am, it doesn’t come off as how it may have come off in the past where he’s screaming at coaches. It’s not any of that.”
That alone could be cause for celebration.
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