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Byron Murphy Picks Good Time To Elevate His Game

Cornerback rises to top of depth chart in third season

Cornerback Byron Murphy celebrates his interception Friday night with teammate Malcolm Butler.
Cornerback Byron Murphy celebrates his interception Friday night with teammate Malcolm Butler.

An interception was there to be had last week, Byron Murphy Jr. figured, and preseason or not, he was disappointed he didn't make the play.

So as he tracked Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes running backward and to the sideline trying to avoid linebacker Devon Kennard, the Cardinals' cornerback was ready as the ball was launched to the end zone.

"I had to make up for it," said Murphy, after his toe-tap pick of Mahomes in the preseason loss to the Chiefs. "I'm out here playing the game I love, just have fun with it. Last week I thought I should've made the play. This week was like, I can't let that happen again."

Murphy's play was a highlight of an up-and-down defensive night. The starting defense only allowed three points, stopping the Chiefs on all three of their first drive third downs, although allowing two fourth-down conversions.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury liked the effort but lamented that the unit was on the field too many plays. Young linebackers Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons had some highlight plays, but made mistakes.

"Personally, I missed too many tackles, missed (defending) a big play down the middle," Collins said,

"We're not going to beat around the bush with something, not at this level," Collins said. "We're going to fix it."

But the Cardinals through two games have to feel confident in their top three-cornerback group. Veterans Robert Alford and Malcolm Butler have been solid. Then there is Murphy, whom defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called the team's best cornerback early in the offseason and who has shown that throughout training camp.

"I don't really listen to those types of things," Murphy said. "I try to come in every day and work. As a corner, you have to think you're the best. My mindset, I think I'm the best corner in the league. (But) I'm not a vet, I don't think. I'm only on Year 3. I'm still learning."

Murphy played more than 1,000 defensive snaps as a rookie, a year in which he wasn't supposed to play that much until Alford's first season-ending injury and Patrick Peterson's six-game suspension. That didn't always play out well in 2019, but flattened his learning curve.

When he first came out of school Murphy was the guy who was going to play the slot, and that was the plan again in 2020 with Alford and Peterson outside. Then Alford went down again.

Now Murphy is effective both in the slot and outside, and the plan is to use him both places.

"We feel we can do both at a high level," Kingsbury said.

High enough to pick off the best quarterback in the NFL – even if it is just the preseason.

"I'm feeling more comfortable with the defense as a whole," Murphy said. "I'm seeing things faster, feeling more comfortable and having more confidence in myself."