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Yes, it’s Captain Kyler for Cardinals

Howard Balzer Avatar
September 7, 2023

The narratives and outside noise revolving madly around Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray have run rampant during the last few seasons and only raged louder this offseason as Murray embarked on a grueling recovery from a torn ACL and meniscus, which coincided with sweeping changes in the leadership of the franchise.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim were shown the door on Jan. 9 only six days after Murray underwent surgery 22 days following the injuries that occurred during a Monday night game against the Patriots on Dec. 12.

A mere week after the sea-change in the organization, Monti Ossenfort arrived as the general manager and a month later Jonathan Gannon was hired as the head coach days after his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, lost in the Super Bowl played in State Farm Stadium to the Kansas City Chiefs.

It’s been a roller-coaster eight months for all involved, but the ride will likely only get bumpier in the coming days and weeks as theories and speculation run rampant about the quarterback’s future.

Last week, it reached a fever pitch with the wild opinion that the Cardinals won’t play Murray at all this season to prevent him from being injured, which could result in some injury-only guarantees becoming fully guaranteed if he fails a physical next March.

That was preceded by the never-ending belief that the Cardinals will or should move on from Murray and select USC quarterback Caleb Williams if they are able to secure the first overall choice in the 2024 draft.

Never mind that the salary-cap ramifications of Murray’s contract makes it virtually imperative that the Cardinals are able to trade him if they want to shed him from the roster so the new team would bear the brunt of the remaining multi-millions remaining in his deal.

The only way to do that is if Murray plays this season and stays healthy. An idle Murray for all of 2023 makes him virtually untradeable.

One other option that is rarely discussed is Gannon and Co. continuing to build around Murray and adding a large number of draft choices in a trade of the first overall pick if they have it. The Cardinals also have Houston’s first-round pick, so if the Texans are also very high in the draft order, another trade would be possible for a team wanting a different quarterback.

In any event, as the headlines began to fade from the debate and with the regular season about to begin, imagine the exorcist-like head-spinning that occurred Monday.

That’s when Gannon revealed that despite being on reserve/physically unable to perform and barred from even practicing until Oct. 4, he had named Murray as one of the team’s six captains.

Gannon matter-of-factly said he did that because “he’s our franchise quarterback and everything I want for our captains to be, he demonstrates it.”

Later that day after the Cardinals had a short practice to begin preparations for Sunday’s game against Washington, it was time for left tackle D.J. Humphries to talk about Murray’s captainship.

Also one of the captains and another player that was rehabbing during the offseason from a back injury that limited him to eight games last season, Humphries said, “I think it’s a reflection of how Kyler has handled this whole process. When you deal with quarterbacks, quarterbacks are like these mystical unicorns that you have to make sure you handle them a certain way in the offseason and you don’t see them until they are back with the team.

“But I got to see him. I got to train with him, lifting and running. None of the fun stuff. And it put me with a different view of him because you see someone grind through something really hard. That was really big for me. It didn’t surprise me at all (that he was) named a captain. He’s earned that.”

He concluded, “The work he put in this summer that we all got to watch, it’s been impressive. It’s going to come out tenfold when we get him back out on that field.”

The new coaching staff didn’t know Murray when they were hired, but surely heard many of the things said about him, including comments early in the offseason from tackle Kelvin Beachum.

During an interview with ArizonaSports 98.7, Beachum noted that Murray needs to grow up and when asked about him not being a leader, Beachum said, “I didn’t say he lacks the leadership; I just think he needs to grow up a little bit. I think if he has the ability and willingness to grow up, he’s gonna be just fine. They paid him for a reason. They paid him because of his talent. He has the ability to lead; it’s just when you’re in that position, we need you to lead more.”

A few weeks later during an appearance on the Ross Tucker Podcast, Beachum said, “The thing is I said what I said. I didn’t mince what I said. There was no ill will in what I said, and I said the obvious. It’s being able to see somebody mature just like you would like to see a player mature from year to year. At some point in a player’s life or especially a young player’s life, they take leaps and bounds and I just wanted to see the young man grow up.

“And I said that. I didn’t think it was (said) in a malicious way, but you know how it is. Free agency, you got some sound bites. But the question was, ‘Does he lack leadership? Does he have a heart for it?’ and I think it’s really wrong to try to question a man’s heart or question a man’s work ethic, especially once they’ve gotten to the National Football League level, because there’s a lot of work to be put in to get here. So there’s never been a question of ‘Can he work?’ It’s never been a question of his leadership. It’s, ‘Can he do more? And is he willing to do more?’

“And I would love to see him do more, because he has the ability to do so and he has the keys to the franchise. He’s a leader in that regard. They paid him to be a leader, and I want to see that. So I would say the same thing to him that I’ve said publicly: Grow up, let’s find a way to galvanize and find a way to do this thing together.”

By all accounts, Murray has done that.

As offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said Tuesday,He’s been unbelievable really since we walked in the building. He’s done everything we’ve asked from a rehab standpoint, from a learning the offense standpoint, from an engagement in the offensive room and getting to know his teammates and things like that.

“So really pleased with where he’s at, how he’s handled things and certainly expect that to continue moving forward and I think that’s one of the main reasons you see him as a captain. I certainly view him as a franchise quarterback and a leader of this organization. I think his teammates do too, so I was really happy for him to get that nod. It’s been good.”

And Gannon continues to back him, which, of course, is what he has to do publicly.

Still, Gannon has frequently said the Cardinals job was attractive because Murray was present and then told the Arizona Republic two weeks ago thatI’m even more convicted on that answer than I was then because he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do.”

Asked how strongly he feels that, Gannon said, “A lot. Strong.”

The Williams scenario was broached, to which Gannon said, “I mean, that’s a long way away there. Present, man. Stay present.”

As for it being bandied about almost non-stop, Gannon said, “Who’s talking about it? No one in this building is.”

As for when Murray will be ready to practice and play, given that it will be a challenge getting him worthwhile practice reps when the team is preparing an inexperienced quarterback for games, Gannon said Wednesday what he essentially said throughout the offseason: “I’m operating on the premise of when he’s mentally and physically ready to play, he’ll play” and then added, “I know that he’s a franchise quarterback, so those are good for head coaches typically.”

He then expounded on what Murray has experienced for the first time in his football life, saying, “He improves every day. I think the No. 1 bucket that he has to make sure that he keeps improving is his health first. Knowing that he has football also, but you only get one cup a day and where does that energy go? There is a healthy blend to it because he’s getting himself ready to play, but the physical part of it and being mentally and physically ready to play in a game, that’s precedent for me, him, and the staff right now.

“I don’t want him spending all his time on outside zone when he needs to be getting his flexibility, his explosiveness, his stopping, his starting, and all those things I think are a little more important truthfully. The other part’s important too, but that’s more important.”

Noting some bad days that can occur in what at times can be a one step forward, two steps back experience, Gannon was asked about setbacks in the process that is now slightly more than eight months since surgery.

“I don’t think he’s had a bad day because he improves every day,” Gannon said, “but what I say about bad days is it’s not just a linear progression of your knee recovering like you would think it would. I know I’ve said bad days, but what I really mean by that is maybe you didn’t have as good of a day as you thought you were going to have because you were a little tight this morning. Or you didn’t respond when you were supposed to do eight of these and at six, you’re like, ‘I don’t know. It doesn’t feel great.’

“No, there have been no setbacks. His doctor has been phenomenal in Dallas. Dr. (Dan) Cooper helped us tremendously with some input on him. He’s obviously been seeing him a lot, but the staff in there has done a great job with (new head trainer) Drew (Krueger) and his entire staff, and (senior reconditioning coordinator) Buddy (Morris) as a return-to-play specialist. What Buddy’s doing for us right now you couldn’t have a better guy in that role. Just because he’s got the right amount of — obviously he’s brilliant, which helps because you know how to do that — but he’s got the right amount of understanding of what the players are going through and then pushing them a little bit.”

Murray isn’t the only player recovering from ACL surgery.

Tight end Zach Ertz was injured on Nov. 13 against the Rams and had surgery about a month later. He opened training camp on physically unable to perform and then passed his physical on Aug. 15 right at nine months since his surgery. However, he recently said he was unsure whether he will be able to play in the season opener.

Rookie cornerback Garrett Williams tore his ACL last October while at Syracuse and is on reserve/non-football injury and like Murray isn’t eligible to begin practicing until after at least four games have been played.

Gannon has been impressed with how Morris has worked with all three players.

“They’re all three different injuries, so they all don’t have the same plan,” Gannon said. “They all have tailored plans because they’re different injures. Zach is however many years he’s been in, a little bit older, Garrett’s a rookie, and Kyler’s five years in. (They’re in) different positions, different body types, and different in how they heal. (I’ve) honestly been in awe watching it.”

Gannon suffered a serious hip injury that ended his college playing career at Louisville and was asked about the belief that the final days or weeks can be the hardest to make progress.

He said, “I’ve never had a knee, so I don’t know. Some people say yes, and some people say no. If you talk to Kyler and ask him how he felt when he got out of the operating room, that probably was one of the tougher things he had to go through truthfully. Being sick from the anesthetic, not being able to bend your knee and the pain from the incision. That stuff’s real. I have been operated on. Mine was a completely different injury, but you don’t feel great when you wake up, I know that. Then the start of your rehab is not fun.

“To your point, that last 10-20 percent of where you’re trying to get to of who he’s been and what is his norm, probably changes a little bit. You’ve got to be accepting of that, and that’s hard for any athlete, but you’re just trying to get back to your new normal. This is your new normal where you’re going to be at from here on moving forward. I’m proud of him and how he’s battled. I’m proud of all our guys that are recovering and have went through long injuries and long recoveries.”

Gannon knows how players have to battle the mind games that are prevalent in long rehabs.

“That’s a lonely world going through a rehab process with one or two guys (around),” he said. “Sometimes you’re not with the team as much as they want to be. It’s a tough spot and that’s just my experience dealing with guys that I’ve coached that have gone through that. Myself, I know it was on a much smaller scale, but in college it was kind of the same thing. An 18-month rehab doesn’t sound too great, but it’s real. It’s a part of the game and you’ve got to handle it. That’s like all our guys. You’ve got to be able to attack the day, get better every day, and let the chips fall.”

He remains impressed watching the injured players work.

He said, “I think just your brain has got to be right and the psychological part of that has to be pretty on point. It takes a pretty mature person to be able to stack days upon days and have a good attitude when it’s not going great. To say, ‘You know what. I’m going to bear down and get done what I need to get done today.’ That’s why I say, for what these guys sacrifice and what they put into it, I thank them every day for it.”

As much as anything, that’s why in Gannon’s mind, the injured Murray is Captain Kyler.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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