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Kyler Murray Was Starter From The Start, And Cardinals Benefit

Unlike many rookie quarterbacks, top pick knew he was atop depth chart

Quarterback Kyler Murray takes part in his first training camp practice Thursday.
Quarterback Kyler Murray takes part in his first training camp practice Thursday.

Larry Fitzgerald has been through it a couple of times before, when Matt Leinart was a first-round pick in 2006 and when Josh Rosen was taken in the first round in 2018.

A veteran was in place – Kurt Warner for Leinart, Sam Bradford for Rosen – that would quarterback the team until the rookie was ready. It's not an unusual concept for NFL teams. The Kyler Murray era has presented differently.

"Him taking every single snap from the first day he got there, I think everyone understood what the deal was," Fitzgerald said Thursday, a few hours before Murray took the field for his first practice of training camp.

The spotlight is intense. That was a given once he was the first draft pick overall, a Heisman Trophy winner with a huge arm, dynamic speed and just enough doubters to make him must-watch when he stepped on the field.

No reason to muddle it up with a quarterback competition.

"I think it takes away from the distraction, people asking questions and all that stuff," Murray said. "It's my job to earn that right every day."

Backup Brett Hundley was signed as a free agent when the top QB was still Rosen and Murray was still prepping for the draft. He could have played the role of Bradford this season, a short-term potential placeholder. But coach Kliff Kingsbury was hired to create an offense that would electrify, and dropping Murray behind center (a few steps behind, in shotgun, but still) was really the only call.

"Anytime there is uncertainty at that position, it can be tough on the psyche of a lot of players and a lot of coaches and a lot of GMs and owners and everybody else," Kingsbury said. "To have a guy we believe in to be the future of the franchise, it's exciting times."

General Manager Steve Keim said early in the offseason Murray was the starter. Kingsbury wouldn't go that far at first, and in many situations, he would've been a truth-teller.

Of the 33 first-round quarterbacks taken from 2008 through 2018, the vast majority dealt with at least some level of position battle through their initial offseason. Only seven of them – Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota in 2015, E.J. Manuel in 2013, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden in 2012, and Blaine Gabbert in 2011 – started in their team's first preseason game.

The number jumps when it comes to rookie quarterbacks starting Week One, but they weren't on solid ground the moment they were drafted. Guys like Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold eventually were the opening day starters for the Eagles and Jets, respectively, but it was Bradford and Josh McCown under center to start the first preseason game, while those rookies were still proving themselves. There is, much of the time, at least some uncertainty, albeit sometimes slight.

Contrast that to Murray, who from the moment Kingsbury told him over the phone on draft night "Now they have to deal with you" was all but locked in as starter. That was only underscored when Josh Rosen was traded the next day.

"Last year, you have to worry about '50-50ing' it up, make sure you're getting reps with Josh, make sure you're getting reps with Sam," wide receiver Christian Kirk said. "Even the coaches would say, 'We know Sam is starting but make sure you get reps with Josh as well because you never know when he might be thrown in.' So you have to divvy it up.

"Now, you can really hone in on (Kyler's) comfort zones and what he likes, what he doesn't like. It's that constant communication with everyone in the room. Last year, you might have, 'Sam likes this, but Josh likes this.' A little bit of butting up of ideas. It's been better knowing he's the guy."

When possible, Kingsbury adjusted a chunk of the verbiage in his offense to things Murray used in college at Oklahoma. The offense itself has a ton of similarities to what Murray did previously, and Murray acknowledged it would have been much harder for him to assimilate into the NFL in a different situation.

Instead, he's started from the beginning, working hand-in-hand with Kingsbury's plan.

"He's had a ton of mental reps, a ton of work operating the system, getting comfortable," Kingsbury said.

Aside from attending the wedding of former college teammate Baker Mayfield (last year's first pick overall for the Browns who backed up Tyrod Taylor to begin the season), Murray said his offseason has been about preparing for this moment now. He said he's gotten advice from Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (a third-round pick who started off behind Matt Flynn before overtaking him on the depth chart) along the way.

There have been plenty of conversations with other QB1s – which Murray has been from jump.

"Everybody in this locker room knows he's going to be here," Fitzgerald said. "First pick overall, guys understand, it's going to be his show. You want to be a part of it? Get on board."