GLENDALE, Ariz. — This is not even a story about Kyler Murray’s long-term future, or to speculate about whether, when he’s 35, he might try to take a shot in the twilight at roaming center field for the A’s, his drafting team in baseball. He can’t know the future now, so it’s futile to speculate on it, and he’s certainly not going to ruminate on it in his first training camp. My point: Bypassing the baseballs was jarringly interesting to me and said he’s pretty much all-in, as he should be, on being great in this game and parting the Red Sea, as the Cards like to call their all-red game-day crowds. I saw and heard nothing in my day here as evidence of anything other than Murray being a football nerd in training camp, studying the Kliff Kingsbury offense, pushing Kingsbury to take the reins off him so he can actually play the attacking version of the game he loves instead of the milquetoast show-nothing preseason version. The only non-football thing he does, in the Renaissance Hotel next door to the Cards’ stadium, where they hold camp practices, is try to kill teammates at Fortnite. “Not much bothers him,” Kingsbury said Saturday afternoon, “except, I think, losing at Fortnite.”
When Kingsbury got the coaching job at Texas Tech after the 2012 season, one of his first acts was to offer a 5-foot-8 quarterback from Allen, Texas, a full ride to come play quarterback for him in August 2015. When I met Murray after practice, I asked him if that surprised him, a Big 12 coach offering high school sophomore a full ride.
“No,” Murray said matter-of-factly. “I got my first offer from Clemson after the state championship game that year.”
Well, okay. Talk about how college football history may have changed. Kingsbury has been chasing Murray ever since, and now their partnership could impact football for a long time.
It’s always dangerous to make any judgments on a team based on one football practice, and I shall not do that here. Except to say three things:
• This offense is going is going to be fast, and it’s going to rely on spread principles, and it’s going to put lots of decision-making on the quarterback’s shoulders because of the multiple choices he has to make when he surveys the field. Murray threw a couple of interceptions Saturday, one by trying to fit a throw into way too small a window. My guess is Kingsbury will stress to him that if the receivers are running precision routes, he should have a fairly clean option on most plays.
• David Johnson will still have a chance to be a dominant back. He’s going to be Murray’s sidecar an awful lot. One of the most interesting plays I saw Saturday reminded me of a CFL play, with the pre-snap speed. There were two backs in the backfield, on either side of Murray in the shotgun, and smurfy second-round UMass rookie Andy Isabella came in jet-motion (sort of a sprint motion behind the backfield) and two receivers flanked left. At the snap, your eyes focus on Isabella and then quickly to the action left, and you missed Johnson leaking out to the right, away from all the shiny traffic, for a big gain on a swing pass. In Kingsbury’s last full season as Texas Tech coach, 2017, the Red Raiders threw it 551 times and ran it 459. So keep in mind that Kingsbury’s last team for a full season at Tech averaged 35 rushes a game. Johnson will not go hungry, in the running or passing game.
• Murray throws such an effortless and beautiful deep ball, a consistently perfect spiral. No question in my mind that with a couple of speed guys (Isabella and Christian Kirk) and a breakout camp performer in KeeSean Johnson—all three are 22 years old—as well as old reliable Larry Fitzgerald, Kingsbury will be tempted to challenge the deep areas for four quarters.
Overall, there is something weird and illusory about watching the Arizona Cardinals this summer. People have come to two preseason games here wanting to see the Kyler Murray show, and they see the Joe Gibbs Washington teams or something old-fashioned like that. Thursday night against Oakland, you saw a bunch of two-tight-end plays, three on a couple of snaps. There were 76 snaps played by Arizona tight ends in all, conservative and slow … stuff you won’t see when the season starts and Kingsbury is calling his offense. It’s ridiculous to ask people to pay for what is nothing but a faux dress rehearsal, but that’s what the Cardinals have put out when the games begin. Here, in the practices, that’s when Kingsbury can mold the real offense.
“The games, we’re trying to keep it close to the vest, obviously,” Kingsbury told me, sitting on a golf cart before practice. “We’re trying to get our players used to playing with each other. But … it’s interesting for me, because this is the NFL, and I’ve never called a game in my life where I wasn’t in straight attack mode. Kyler and I are adjusting to that.”
“So what can you do that’s just not going through the motions?” I asked.
“That’s a great question,” said Kingsbury, choosing his words carefully now. “For us, it’s operations. Getting guys lined up. Proper footwork. Things like that. It’s a challenge for Kyler. He wants to play. He wants to have success right away. He wants to light up every field he gets on. He’s been trying to get more put in to these game plans. ‘Are we game-planning this week? Are we game-planning? Can we do what we do?’ That’s been fun to see. He wants to go out and shine. He always has been the best, wherever he’s played. He expects to be the best. That’s what drives him.”
Of all the practices I saw on my camp tour, this one was the most interesting, Kingsbury worked with the quarterbacks constantly. When the offense was on the field in 11-on-11 work, he wore the headset and talked to his quarterbacks—Murray and Brett Hundley mostly—and Murray, in particular, played with tempo. You got the feeling, with seven of the eight receivers in serious contention for the final 53-man roster 26 or younger, and six in their first camp with the Cardinals, that Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim have hand-picked receivers specifically for the spread coach to use as modeling clay.
For more, read the rest of this week’s Football Morning in America.