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The Year in Kyler Murray’s Shoes

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NFL: Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For the duration of this article, try to put yourself in Kyler’s Murray’s shoes.

I bet you have never run that fast or throw a pass more accurately, have you?

But—-think for a few minutes about the educational and emotional journey that Kyler Murray has been on for the past year.

Imagine what it felt like to finally get a chance to play an entire season at QB—-which seems unthinkable in light of what a high school legend Kyler Murray was leading Allen (TX) High School to 3 straight State Championship, while going 47-0.

You tried to play at Texas A&M—-but the poor and often misleading communication between the coaches and the QBs was a deal breaker—-so you transferred to Oklahoma.

You are supposed to be the starter in 2017, but Baker Mayfield applies for 5th year NCAA eligibility and wins—-so you have to sit behind Mayfield another year—-and you watch Mayfield win the Heisman Trophy.

The only real playing time you’ve gotten since you arrived at Oklahoma is on the baseball field—-and you impress Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s enough for them to risk selecting you with the #9 pick in the MLB Draft. The A’s know you want to finally play a full year as a starting QB and they gave you the go-ahead.

You go and lead Oklahoma to the Big 12 Championship, avenging an earlier loss to Texas, which earns Oklahoma the #4 seed in the National Championship semi-finals against #1 seed Alabama.

First, however you go to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, and by virtue of passing for over over 4,000 yards and 40 TDs and rushing for over 1,000 yards and 13 TDs you win the Heisman Trophy, 200 points ahead of Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa.

In the Orange Bowl versus Tua and the Crimson Tide, you get rushed by Alabama with a ferocity and quickness you have never seen before—-and by halftime, thanks to a mistake riddled first half, you are down 31-10 and your’s and the team’s prospects look bleak.

Except that you fight back with your own tenacious ferocity in the second half, making it 31-20 by the start of the 4th quarter—-and you wind up passing for over 300 yards and 2 TDs and running for over 100 yards and 1 TD—-but, in the end, it’s not enough and you lose 45-34.

After the game, you give an emotional press conference where you explain to America how grateful you are your teammates whom you consider lifelong brothers.

Suddenly, you are being talked about as a potential high 1st round draft pick. But, you’ve already collected some of your $5M signing bonus from the Oakland A’s.

In the two weeks following the Orange Bowl, you are mulling over your options with your family, your college coach Lincoln Riley and your closest confidantes. In the meantime Billy Beane ties to sweeten the pot for you to stay committed to the Oakland A’s.

On January 8th, Kliff Kingsbury, the college coach who did everything he could to try to get you to commit to Texas Tech, signs on as the Arizona Cardinals’ new head coach.

Less than a week later, you decided to enter your name in the 2019 NFL Draft, and by February you hire the same agent as Kingsbury’s, Erik Burkhardt.

You offer the Oakland A’s a heart-felt apology and reveal that football has always been your greatest love and that playing QB in the NFL has always been your ultimate goal.

Speculation around the NFL—-thanks to Kingsbury’s popular interview during his last season at Texas Tech where he said if he had the 1st pick in the NFL Draft he would take you—- is that you are destined to become the #1 pick in the draft.

But first there is the NFL Combine and everyone wants to know whether you are the 5’8” player that most people think you are—-except that you measure in at 5’10 1/8” and 207 pounds, wit impressive 10” hands.

The Cardinals at the Combine state that QB Josh Rosen is “the starting QB, right now,” which is ambiguous enough to create a media firestorm.

Your interviews with the media are awkward. At times you appear tongue-tied and reticent.

You elect to forego the passing drills at the Combine in order to showcase them at your Pro Day. You ace your Pro Day and dazzle everyone in attendance—-and yet neither Kliff Kingsbury nor Cardinals’ GM Steve Keim are in attendance. For the first time, you appear relaxed and quietly confident during your post workout interview with the media.

But now you must embark on a frenetic series of private meeting with teams.

The Cardinals could have spared you all of that time, uncertainty and stress.

And you likely think to yourself, why wouldn’t they? It would give you a chance to catch your breath, wraps things up in Norman and get a head start on learning about your new teammates and it would even give you ample time to scout the defenses in the NFC West.

Yet, the Cardinals play it coy with you all the way up to the scintillating minutes before the announcement of the 1st pick.

In the moment of highest suspense, the Cardinals select you as the #1 pick in the draft.

You realize your ultimate dream has come true and you now get to play for Kliff Kingsbury, your #1 believer and get to pass the ball to a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer in Larry Fitzgerald.

After the Cardinals trade Josh Rosen, it is crystal clear that from day one, you will be the starting QB.

You have a jump on the field already because Kingsbury’s Air Raid concepts and plays are very similar to the ones you ran at Oklahoma in Lincoln Riley’s offense.

From day one you illustrate a command of the concepts and your new teammates are impressed. Even stars on the other side of the ball like DE Chandler Jones and CB Patrick Peterson take special interest in you.

Peterson advises you to speak up more and “act like the CEO “ of the organization.

But, that’s not quite your style of leadership.

In the months of training before the season starts, you get an inside view of the ugly parts of the business as the team’s star CB Patrick Peterson receives a 6 game suspension from the NFL for a PED violation and cover-up (and calling the Cardinals front office “snakes in the grass” for refusing to re-work his contract so that he could get paid during his 6 weeks hiatus), a team executive, for the 2nd year in a row, gets arrested for a DUI and two teammates are cut from the team following widespread domestic violence accusations (and one of those teammates, Darius Philon, had been impressing as a spirited and gregarious leader during his short time with the team).

All the while you are trying to adapt your play to the speed of the NFL game. You show an ability to move the ball between the 20s in your first pre-season game—-but in the second game the Oakland Raiders come to Arizona on a mission to expose you and Kingsbury’s offense as a bunch of “pretty boys”—-and national seeds of doubt are scattered by naysaying pundits like Rex Ryan—-so much so that GM Keim issues a warning to the team through the media that too many players are just going through the motions.

Your chemistry with the young receivers in the offense is slow in developing so Keim signs veteran UFA WR Michael Crabtree to a $2.3M contract late in the pre-season—-yet Crabtree comes off as kind of a loner and is cut a few weeks later, with his millions quickly deposited in the bank.

The first quarter of the season is a difficult challenge. In your much anticipated debut, despite being stifled for three quarters by Matt Patricia’s defense, you lead a furious 4th quarter rally and wind up settling for a 27-27 OT tie with the Lions—-an outcome that you and no one is sure whether to feel good or dubious about. In week 2 you put up a gallant fight in Baltimore versus Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, losing 23-17. In weeks 3 and 4 at home versus the Panthers and Seahawks you have trouble cracking two of the most effective pressure rush zone defenses in the NFL and lose 38-20 and 27-10 respectively, to finish the first 4 games at 1-3-1.

In the second quarter of the season, you start finding your groove as an accurate passer and as a more assertive runner, beating the Bengals in Cincinnati 26-23, beating the Falcons at home 34-33 and beating the Giants in New York 27-1, to even the team record at 3-3-1, before getting spanked in New Orleans 31-9.

For your stellar 27/37/73%/340yd/3td performance versus the Falcons, you are lauded as the NFC offensive Player of the Week—-but you graciously shy away from the personal glory in favor of seeing the award as a confirmation of the offense’s success.

In the third quarter of the season, despite putting up impressive numbers, points and in two cases, 4th quarter leads, versus the 49ers, Bucs and 49ers, your defense gives up easy 4th game-winning quarter drives and the team loses all three of these tight games: 28-25, 30-27 and 36-26 (was 30-26 before the fumble recovery TD on the last desperation play of the game).

Late in the Bucs’ game with the team ahead 27-23 and moving the ball with a great chance to put the game out of reach, you throw your first interception in weeks—-and you watch leeringly in dismay the defense give up the lead and the game—-and in the two minute drill you seem to forget that the clock was ticking for 23 seconds with under a minute left—-and you get a PI call on the 4th down—-but all the clock allows is one, final, off-balance heave Hail Mary—-which actually was so perfect that the CB on the play interfered with Pharoh Cooper—-but—-go figure—-the NFL decided not to even review the game-ending play.

You bounced out to a 16-0 lead in Santa Clara versus the 49ers and still had the lead 26-23 with under 38 seconds left when Jimmy Garoppolo hit a wide open RB over the middle with no Cardinals’ defender in sight, to win the game.

Then, came the bye week.

You didn’t like the change in routine. Even a Wednesday practice was cancelled.

The results after the bye week were dismal. The team got chewed up and spit out at home versus the Rams, 34-7 and then lost a second straight home game, 23-17, to the Steelers amidst a State Farm Stadium dominated by rowdy Steelers’ fans—-your two worst games of the season. Where once your ball security was borderline elite, in these two games you threw 4 interceptions. It certainly didn’t help that the defense continued to play its part as the worst defense in the NFL. Even the team’s normally reliable special teams gave up a punt return TD.

Along the way, you were a witness to a number of veteran starters getting cut from the team for lackluster effort: WR Michael Crabtree, S D.J. Swearinger, CB Trumaine Brock and OLB/DE Terrell Suggs—-and, just like Cardinals’ fans, you’ve had to shake your head at the dysfunction within the organization.

You’ve seen the team’s star RB, David Johnson run repeatedly at half speed and lose his job to Kenyan Drake,

However, on the bright side, Drake has given the offense a nice boost, this past week to the tune of 146 yards and 4 TDs and looks like a keeper—-and it helps that a newly added TE Dan Arnold was “Mossing” guys in practice and then in the corner of the end zone versus a outstretched CB in the big bounce-back 38-24 win versus the Browns, which has won you bragging rights over your buddy Baker Mayfield.

This week, when your coach was asked Monday about your maturation as an NFL QB throughout the season, he said, “Tt’s been “night and day from day one to now.”

”You have a bunch of grown millionaires looking at you for direction and leadership and how you carry yourself, and that’s a lot to walk into.”

“I just think the comfort level of being able to handle that every day, and the expectation on him every day — this franchise goes as he goes, whether it’s in a meeting, in practice or in a game, and I think he’s grown into that.”

Your head must still be spinning—-what you have learned is to control the things you can control—-to, as your coach says, “stay on schedule”—-to be your true, humble, yet fiercely competitive self—-to be the best possible leader by example—-even when it comes to showing the much beleaguered defense what to takes to make a good, clean tackle:

Wow.

Does this play, as much as any other, speak to your character, or what?

What also speaks volumes to your character is how when asked about Victory Monday you assured your teammates and the media that, ‘I’ll be working anyway.”

You have two games left versus NFC West rivals and a chance to avenge earlier losses to Russell Wilson and Jared Goff. You welcome this challenge and you hope to fire up your teammates to carpe the heck out of the diem.

Then, following the season, as we Cardinals’ fans do every year, you will be spending your days trying to figure out every conceivable way for your Cardinals to get better—-fitting every player together like a 53 piece jigsaw puzzle—-so that you and the team can get back to painting Rembrandts like this: