‘It makes a difference’: Kyler Murray’s minicamp participation helps Cardinals offense, defense


TEMPE, Ariz. — Jonathan Gannon didn’t want to hide his excitement.

It was the last — and only — day of the Arizona Cardinals‘ minicamp and the head coach had just guided his team through a nine-week offseason program that, in one significant way, was vastly different than last year.

Quarterback Kyler Murray was back. And to Gannon, there was no reason to downplay what that meant to him, the offense, the locker room and the franchise.

“It’s awesome to see him lead the offense, lead the team, being there with his teammates, ask really good questions, get held accountable in front of everyone and take it on the chin just like everybody does,” Gannon said. “I love that about him.”

Murray missed the on-field portion of last year’s offseason while he recovered from right knee ACL surgery. Even though he was at practice every day, his injury forced him to stand and watch, oftentimes next to quarterback coach Israel Woolfork or Gannon, trying to absorb a new offense through mental reps.

This offseason was different. Murray returned for the last eight games of last season, and he was on the field for all of voluntary OTAs and mandatory minicamp. He took advantage of it, diving deeper into the nuances of an offense he learned on the fly in a three-week leadup to his debut last season.

“I want to say it’s felt like one of the best offseasons I’ve had in a long time,” Murray said. “Just being able to, one, be healthy, and then, two, be in touch with the guys and actually be a part of it.

“Obviously, last year, being on the side, working with [senior reconditioning coordinator] Buddy [Morris] every day, having to watching, having to be in meetings and not really being able to get a feel for anything, it just makes a difference. It makes a difference when I’m out there and we’re all getting better together, so not only on the field but of the field. It’s a good offseason.”

MURRAY’S THE FIRST ONE to arrive, said linebacker Zaven Collins, who added that the quarterback is constantly walking around and talking to his teammates about, well, everything.

Murray quickly made an impression on first-round pick Darius Robinson by asking the defensive lineman about his goals and sharing his own experiences as a rookie. When Murray first started talking with Robinson, the Missouri product couldn’t believe the best player on the team was chatting with a rookie.

But Murray cares.

“I know where he’s at and it would be a waste not to give him the information that I’ve learned or I’ve been through it and he’s a teammate of mine, so he’s a part of it,” Murray said. “I want to see him reach his full potential and he’s going to be good.”

The Cardinals are “operating a little better right now” with Murray back, Gannon said. It’s a combination of being in the second year of a new regime, a new scheme and a new roster, but it’s also because Murray is able to run the offense, tweak it to his liking, direct his teammates and immerse himself in the system. He has thrown with his wide receivers on weekends at various high schools around the Phoenix area.

Being back has also given Murray a chance to take his relationship with center Hjalte Froholdt to another level. They’ve finessed and fine-tuned their communication and the snap.

“It’s nice just to be able to work with him,” said Froholdt, who’s in his second season as Arizona’s center. “He is pretty chill about everything. It’s definitely nice to have him back there and feel the rhythm of him.”

During practices, Murray has been preparing the Cardinals’ defense as much as the offense, Collins said. Murray’s helped Arizona’s edge rushers work on their containment and its cornerbacks on their man-to-man coverage.

Just having Murray on the field has forced the Cardinals’ defense to work on disguising their coverages, Collins said, because “he’s gonna know what coverage you’re in if you show it.”

“Pick your poison,” Collins said. “He does everything. It makes everyone better.”

GOING INTO THIS OFFSEASON, Murray had a list of things he wanted to work on, but the priority was getting reps with his teammates beyond the basic routes. The last seven weeks of on-field work have been spent working on details, like going through “every possible scenario,” Murray said, so the offense can react like it’s second nature.

Murray didn’t sugarcoat the trials of last season. He felt like he was “tossed into the fire.”

“Obviously you can still be successful but you don’t want to be out there thinking because you’re not in full form at that point,” Murray said. “I think [when] we get to that point where we’re just reacting and making plays it’s going to be a good thing.”

With the Cardinals’ captain back on the field this offseason, they’ve taken strides that weren’t available to take last year.

Murray has injected an energy both in the locker room and on the field, creating a shift with just his presence alone.

“I mean, night and day,” wide receiver Michael Wilson said. “Having him out there, he is definitely the leader of the team and the one that makes this engine go, and so to have your leader out there makes the world of difference.”

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