TEMPE, Ariz. -- As the Arizona Cardinals made their way through their offseason program -- spending voluntary OTAs and mandatory minicamp installing a new offense while trying to get the newcomers on the same page as the returning players -- one thing remained constant: Kyler Murray.
The fifth-year quarterback, who’s still rehabbing from ACL surgery to his right knee in January, was a presence at practice throughout Arizona’s offseason program, watching his fellow quarterbacks work from a few yards behind the line of scrimmage and going through the reads as plays developed. He’d chime in when he felt it was needed, talking with the other signal-callers or working through a route with a receiver.
Murray still might be weeks or months away from taking the field, but making his presence felt on a daily basis this offseason -- which was a change from past years when he’d spend offseasons working out in Dallas, near where he grew up -- meant “everything” to new coach Jonathan Gannon.
“He’s been here,” Gannon said. “He’s been the first one in the building, been here after everybody goes, and I got to spend a lot of time with him during … OTA periods and just seeing how he’s working.
“You can tell he’s really, really locked in, how much he’s itching to get back out there. He’s behind the huddles every play, so really locked in and really excited for his return and just his whole process.”
When Murray will return from the torn ACL he suffered while scrambling on Dec. 12 against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, however, has yet to be determined. Murray didn’t speak to the media during the offseason, which has been the team’s practice with injured players.
During Gannon's last news conference of the offseason before training camp, he said Murray is: “Same as. He'll be champing at the bit, I'm sure.”
Even though Gannon hasn’t put a timeline on Murray’s return, the average length of a rehab is typically nine to 12 months and is dependent on a number of things including complexity of the surgery, the player’s injury history and their position. Part of deciding when Murray can return will be his comfort level in the pocket and facing pressure on a surgically repaired knee. Another part, and maybe the most important of Murray’s readiness to play again, is his comfort and confidence in running, scrambling, planting, accelerating and decelerating.
Gannon has consistently said that whenever Murray is ready, both physically and mentally, he’ll return to the field. Gannon is a believer that being ready to return mentally from an injury is just as important as being ready physically because, as he put it, players get in "car crashes" for their profession. He’s seen players come back from injury and not be the same because of what’s going on inside their head. A player’s brain, Gannon said, has to be healthy, too.
But the team won’t make a decision on an actual return-to-play timeframe until Murray hits the grass as an active participant for the first time, Gannon said.
One of Murray’s closest friends on and off the team, wide receiver Marquise Brown, said his former Oklahoma teammate has been rehabbing with a smile on his face – something that doesn’t surprise Brown.
“I just know the type of guy he is,” Brown said. “He’s a competitor so he wants to get back out there so I know he’s going to attack it as best as he can to try to make it back out there whenever he can.”
Murray has impressed his teammates with his approach to his rehab and the offense.
“It’s been fun to see because it’s like you get to see something different from your guy,” left tackle D.J. Humphries said of seeing Murray in the training room. “It’s like, ‘Dang, I ain’t even know that was your makeup cause I’ve never seen you do it,’ and now it’s like, ‘OK, I see who you are. I get a little bit more understanding of who you are and why you are the way you are,’ and it’s been cool for me. I’ve been loving it to be around him a bunch.”
Added wide receiver Rondale Moore: “He’s been great in my eyes.”
In the meantime, Murray has been working to learn the offense like everyone else on the roster. While the offense hasn’t been fully revealed, what’s known is it’ll be a pivot from the scheme Murray ran the last four years to an offense more anchored in the run and has been described by Brown as “a lot different” than what the Cardinals ran last season.
“He’s been great in meetings,” quarterback Colt McCoy said. “This is all new for all of us, especially new for Kyler. Just the total operation from the moment you get the playcall in your headset. Our thought process last year, we would just signal it all out and flow like that.
“Now, there's just a different operation and I think that part has been new for everybody, and Kyler's done a great job with that. He's in the meetings, we talk a lot, we communicate, he asks good questions. The only thing he's not doing is going out on the field. He's doing all his rehab and getting better.”
McCoy has been QB1 all offseason and is the presumptive starter should Murray not be ready for Week 1. McCoy started three games last season after Murray injured his hamstring and later tore his ACL, but was knocked out of his Week 15 start with a concussion and didn’t play again the rest of the season. David Blough, the starter for the final two games, wasn’t at minicamp, but Gannon said he’ll be at training camp, which begins in late July. The other two quarterbacks on the roster this offseason are Jeff Driskel and rookie Clayton Tune.
“I like where that room’s at and where they're going,” Gannon said in April.
By deciding to go through his rehab in Arizona rather than Texas -- the team preferred Murray rehab in Arizona, where he had his surgery -- Murray has spent more time around his teammates during an offseason than any time in his career. And that has led to some around the team getting to know him better.
Humphries spent the offseason in Arizona rehabbing his back after injuring it last season. Those hours in the training room with Murray introduced Humphries to a different side of his quarterback.
“He's a lot funnier than he puts off,” Humphries said. “He’s got a lot of cool guy, calm to him that he puts off into the world, but when you get him by himself, he's pretty funny. He's pretty hilarious, actually. When you get him by himself, but ... like you got to be one of the guys. He's not going to be funny if you're around -- any of you guys really -- if he doesn't know you. We'll be right here and we will be having a great time and you'll walk in. It's like, ‘I’ll talk to you guys later.’ But it's cool though. It's been cool to be around him and kind of see how he is. It's funny.
“I was a Kyler Murray fan before. I'm a big Kyler Murray fan now, though, for sure.”