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Kyler Murray Works Toward ACL Return: 'The Job Doesn't Stop'

Quarterback speaks for first time about rehabbing from knee injury

Kyler Murray watches while the other quarterbacks work during an OTA in May.
Kyler Murray watches while the other quarterbacks work during an OTA in May.

Each day the Cardinals took the field this offseason for an OTA or minicamp practice, Kyler Murray stayed inside.

His right knee was the culprit, in need of extensive rehabilitation after his ACL tear on Dec. 12 against the Patriots and his subsequent surgery a few weeks later. But each day, the quarterback would wrap up his work as his teammates worked their way into 11-on-11, getting out on the grass to watch. He made sure he could get mental reps if not physical ones.

His shredded knee was an ugly exclamation point to a rough 2022, the first significant injury of his life.

"It's got to be a positive. There really is no option for it to be a negative," Murray said in his first interview about the subject since getting injured, part of a new episode of "Flight Plan" debuting this week.

"I feel you get your little grace period right after it happens, dwell on it, soak in it, let the feelings take over. After that, (expletive), we gotta go. Life doesn't stop. The job doesn't stop. And I'm not going to stop."

Murray, despite his circumstances, is in a good place. With all the time he's spent in the facility he's bonded with teammates -- "He's funnier than you think," tackle D.J. Humphries said – and embraced the work needed to return. He has connected with the new coaching staff, starting with Jonathan Gannon.

Murray (right) talks with coach Jonathan Gannon during an OTA.
Murray (right) talks with coach Jonathan Gannon during an OTA.

Like his coaches, Murray doesn't talk specifics about when he'll be back on the field. Beginning training camp on the physically unable to perform list seems inevitable; where it goes from there and how many games he might miss remains a mystery.

Much is different for Murray heading into his fifth NFL season. And while he'll talk about the wreckage of last season, his thought process is about what's ahead of him.

"I'm thinking of stuff that I wasn't part of, like the draft, who we were gonna get, young players coming out," Murray said. "The whole (last) year was (expletive). It happened for a reason. The things we were doing weren't sustainable for success.

"It was necessary and in turn good will come out of what happened."

AS MURRAY was carted off the field three plays into the game against the Patriots, it seemed almost surreal. For all the concern about Murray's size potentially leading to a major injury, he went down non-contact. Given the severity, it also created serious uncertainty for 2023. Murray felt it all.

"A (expletive)-ton of frustration," Murray recalled.

The frustration wasn't just from the knee injury. It was from everything.

The sometime contentious contract discussions, other key injuries, DeAndre Hopkins' suspension, and not only a failure to meet expectations but a hard slide backward from everything the Cardinals and Murray had built toward in Murray's first three seasons.

"To hit a wall Year 4, especially after going through the whole contract thing, the energy, the aura, the vibes going into the season were all negative," Murray said. "Having to deal with all that stuff and trying to focus on football, and then I got Covid in camp, I hurt my wrist in camp so I missed a lot of reps, and having to play catch up in the season, starting with the Chiefs, it was kind of a compilation of (expletive)-up things going on."

The Cardinals – and Murray – have worked to change that.

Murray goes through a workout with Buddy Morris.
Murray goes through a workout with Buddy Morris.

He is impressed with the moves of GM Monti Ossenfort. He said he and Gannon have meshed well, leading to a "seamless" transition to the new staff. The two have gone to dinner a couple of times, talking about more than just football.

"They are really investing in the organization and the team," Murray said. "You run through a wall for that type of guy. That's the energy he brings."

The energy Gannon or the Cardinals have will ultimately be altered – one way or another – by Murray's timeline to return.

"I just know the type of guy he is," wide receiver and close friend Hollywood Brown said. "He's a competitor. He wants to get back out there so he's going to attack it the best he can."

There is still a little of Murray's frustration still lingering. The fallout from his contract – and the so-called "study-clause" – led to criticism he doesn't feel is fair, which he makes plain. But he knows that how he and the team perform on the field is the only way to change perceptions.

"I think winning cures all, and it's been tough to do that with some of the circumstances we've had to deal with," Murray said. "But I think we are headed in the right direction."

Murray jokes around with senior reconditioning coordinator Buddy Morris (center), as Zach Ertz comes out alongside.
Murray jokes around with senior reconditioning coordinator Buddy Morris (center), as Zach Ertz comes out alongside.

MURRAY has spent more time at the Dignity Health Training Center than most this offseason, a natural by-product of having to rehab. While in Arizona, he has worked on his knee five days a week, and in the times he has returned to Dallas – his hometown – it's been six or seven days a week.

"Hours? I couldn't tell you," he said. "A lot."

His new contract provides some incentive (he earns $1 million for showing up to offseason workouts) to spend most of his offseason in Tempe, but so too does the situation. There is a new coaching staff, a reset that Murray needed, and a knowledge that there is work to do to climb out of the hole the team found itself by the end of last season. It doesn't hurt that Murray is close with Buddy Morris, the team's senior reconditioning coordinator and former head strength coach who has helped push Murray during his comeback.

Given that some important pieces of the offense have been rehabbing together – Murray, Humphries, tight end Zach Ertz – there has been time to connect as well.

"I feel like I've learned a lot about Kyler," Humphries said. "We've been in the training room a lot (together). Offseason training is the real work. Football is organized, you need do this, this, this, and this and you can leave. Offseason is 'How much do you care about football? How often are you going to come in here?' This is when you build that callus for real. I feel like I have gotten to know him better around him watching him attack his rehab like this. It's been impressive."

Backup quarterback Colt McCoy said while the offense is a significant change from which Murray has played within "he's going to be just fine." Murray has been studying the playbook and multiple times Gannon has made mention of Murray's engagement in meetings.

Having to play this season without training camp is a hurdle, but a hurdle that can't be avoided.

Murray takes in some 11-on-11 mental reps.
Murray takes in some 11-on-11 mental reps.

"Reps are your biggest tool for learning but he's played a lot of football and he's an extremely intelligent person," Gannon said. "A guy that has played at a high level for a long time, I'm not as worried as much. He doesn't need to bank 100 reps. He's seen Cover 3 and all the ways to play it.

"He'll have some rust he'll have to knock off but he'll be ready to go."

Knowing what to expect from Murray this season will be difficult. Not only is it a new offense, but many players coming back from an ACL tear don't get all the way back to "normal" until the following season. Murray, as a quarterback whose legs are a big part of his game, will be under the microscope when it comes to that aspect.

But Murray was going to be under the microscope, injury or not, now five years into his career. He believes he is "wiser." Now it must translate to his game.

"I've got to respect the person or understand the ins and outs or the rhymes and reasons for what we are doing," Murray said. "I'm going to listen. I'm going to be coachable and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability, but if the (expletive) ain't working, at some point, we all have to look in the mirror.

"As far as growing from my rookie year to now, learning how to be one with your emotions, understanding how to talk to people. Some people are able to take the harsh way, and I am naturally that way, or do I need to give them a little love and that's part of the quarterback position. … And (learning) what can I do better, how can I be better, how can I make the guys around me better? It's a team sport. We all have to be locked in."

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