Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray essentially started from scratch in Thursday night’s preseason opener in an effort to prove his talent is bigger than his body.
One scintillating drive was all it took to drive that point home, along with captivating a rightfully skeptical fan base that was led to believe in Josh Rosen a year ago.
Grab some popcorn, Cardinals fans—the Kyler Murray Show has officially arrived.
It was lights, camera, action as the Cardinals’ prized No. 1 overall 2019 NFL Draft pick took the field against the visiting Los Angeles Chargers.
The weight of the NFL world peering over his shoulder, along with the ball being backed all the way up on the two-yard line, heaped Grand Canyon-sized pressure on the 22-year-old starter.
There was nothing convenient about Murray’s first NFL drive, but then again, few things have ever been convenient for the 5-foot-10, 207-pound quarterback.
His lack of prototypical size at the position has been the talking point at every destination until he showed naysayers something different.
He was “too small” in high school, and then he led his team to three state championships and won Gatorade Football Player of the Year as a senior. He was “too small” in college, and then he led the Oklahoma Sooners to the playoffs and won a Heisman Trophy.
An entire spring and summer of listening to NFL critics speak so highly of the physical nuances of playing the quarterback position had him licking his chops for some more humble pie serving. The first order of Murray-flavored pastries was doled out in a nearly flawless debut against the Chargers.
In a situation where most rookies would have panicked, Murray casually lined up in the shotgun formation, deep in his own end zone, and delivered a six-yard strike to wideout Damiere Byrd for breathing room.
It was like clockwork the rest of the way: A smart short pass to Trent Sherfield for a first down; a smooth roll out of the pocket, coupled with a zipping sideline throw to Sherfield; a heads-up checkdown throw to running back David Johnson for 14 yards; a crisp sideline first-down throw to Byrd, followed by a run-play option dump-off attempt to future Hall of Fame wideout Larry Fitzgerald.
Oh, it’s going to be fun.
Murray finished the game throwing 6-of-7 for 44 yards—the only incompletion coming on a penalty by KeeSean Johnson, who stepped out of bounds before coming back in to catch another rolling sideline throw. Perhaps the most important play of the game for the rookie quarterback, however, was his willingness to drop to the ground when inescapable pressure was in his face.
How many times have we seen young quarterbacks try to force the action and attempt to make something happen in that situation, which often leads to an interception, fumble or even worse, an injury?
If no one knew any better, Murray could have been mistaken as a veteran player with the ease of how he conducted Cardinals coach Kyle Kingsbury’s offense. There were no forced throws with him simply taking whatever the defense gave him—all while dazzling with his quick feet and Houdini like escapes from a collapsing pocket.
However, we’ll keep the champagne on ice and hold off on the confetti showers until we see Murray in game action against an opponent’s first-team defense.
He managed to clear the first hurdle with ease, and there are sure to be far more difficult challenges down the road. Yet, if you’re a Cardinals fan, you can’t help but walk away feeling intrigued.
Murray serves as a beacon of hope for better days for a franchise that hasn’t been considered relevant since Carson Palmer led them into an NFC Championship squash match against the Carolina Panthers back in 2016.
A playoff berth isn’t the expectation as much as Murray proving he can be the foundation for what general manager Steve Keim is trying to build in Arizona.
The weight of an entire NFL franchise now rests on the shoulders of an undersized rookie playing like a giant on field—an alluring spectacle that should succeed in captivating more than just the Cardinals’ fan base.
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