The last time we saw Kyler Murray, he was wearing coach Kliff Kingsbury’s headset and found himself calling the offensive plays during an 11-on-11 scrimmage portion of Cardinals’ training camp on July 30.
“I just wanted him to know that, ‘Hey, this (expletive) ain’t easy.’ ” Kingsbury said. “Every now and then he’ll start shaking his head when I’m calling it and I’m like, ‘All right, go ahead, big dog.’ ”
By most accounts, Murray held his own as a fill-in play caller, although Kingsbury said the starting quarterback spent a little too much time barking into the microphone.
“While they (the quarterbacks) were trying to throw he’d be saying stuff, so I probably won’t do that again,” Kingsbury said, grinning. “But we had him do it. We wanted to keep him involved. He did a good job, it’s just that I would not want to play for Kyler Murray if I was the quarterback and he was the coach.”
The roles were somewhat back to normal on Saturday at State Farm Stadium as the team gathered for its annual “Red & White Practice.” Kingsbury reclaimed his headset and resumed calling the plays. Murray, meanwhile, was back on the field after sitting out a week after testing positive for COVID.
Kingsbury, however, wasn’t ready to let Murray come back full-tilt and lead the first-team offense through drills, scrimmage work and the two-minute rehearsal. He warned beforehand that Murray would be limited in his first day back – and he was.
“We’re going to get him loosened up,” Kingsbury said before practice. “Obviously, he’s been out of commission for five days, kind of sitting around and trying to feel better, so we’ll see how he feels. If he does anything, it will be minimal, football-wise. He’s going to run and lift and just try to get rolling again.”
When the offense began warming up, Murray, who turns 25 on Sunday, looked ready to be a full participant. He was in pads, was holding his helmet and appeared as if he wanted to throw some passes along with backup Colt McCoy and reserve quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Jarrett Guarantano.
But Kingsbury waved both Murray and wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown out of the area and they watched instead. Brown has been dealing with a sore hamstring and won’t start ramping up his reps until sometime next week.
As for Murray, who recently signed a five-year contract extension worth $230.5 million that will keep him under contract through 2028, Kingsbury said Saturday’s inactivity was the plan all along.
“Yeah, that was anticipated,” he said. “We didn’t want to rush him back out there after five days of not doing anything, so once we new he had COVID, we set the schedule and just wanted to see him back in and get him around the guys and then Monday, I expect him to at least do something.”
Brown, who began camp on the Non-Football Injury list but has since been activated, isn’t the only other important piece of the Cardinals’ offense that has been missing. Veteran center Rodney Hudson, who contemplated retirement this offseason, has only practiced a few times and it was learned on Saturday he is dealing with a knee issue.
Isn’t the team concerned that it’s starting center and quarterback haven’t had very much time on task with each other in the preseason?
“If it was their first year together, I would say yes,” Kingsbury said. “But I feel confident that they’re both very well-versed in the offense. They’ve built a great relationship and if anything, it’s giving (backup center Sean) Harlow a bunch of reps with the first team and Colt, obviously.”
McCoy, 35, won two of his three starts last season while Murray was sidelined with an ankle sprain. Kingsbury said the first-team offense didn’t miss a beat all week with the veteran quarterback under center.
“He’s been great,” Kingsbury said. “He prepares like he’s the starter every week. He has the respect of the team, like he is the starter. They know what he was able to do last year when he came in. It’s been great work. Anytime you get a guy who at some point may have to play and help you win games, that type of work, you’ve got to embrace it.”
Kingsbury also made sure to give McCoy credit for mentoring Murray, who has been named to back-to-back Pro Bowls and became the first player in NFL history with 70 or more passing touchdowns and 20 or more rushing touchdowns in his first three seasons.
“Colt has been tremendous bringing him in, being a veteran guy who does it right every single day,” Kingsbury said. “But just the progress (Murray) has made has been outstanding. Every year he’s gotten dramatically better in every area, whether it’s on the field, off the field, the way he carries himself, preparation, all those things.
“He’s just learned how to be a pro and he didn’t have anybody to show him how to do it. He had a fired college coach. He didn’t have some 12-year veteran quarterback who knows how to do it. He was the guy from Day 1. He’s kind of had to learn on the fly, learn on his own.”
All Murray wants to do now is show the world he’s a winner and make good on his promise to deliver a Super Bowl title to Arizona, which he has referenced at least twice publicly since signing his new contract, making him the second highest-paid quarterback in game, at least in terms of annua salary, behind the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.
“When you became the face of the franchise and you know this is your home and there’s a commitment like the commitment that’s been made, I know he wants to win,” Kingsbury said. “He wants to make the people in this state proud. He wants to make this organization proud. I definitely see that he has taken on that type of ownership of what he means to this place now and the commitment they’ve made to him.”
Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch.
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