Bill Murray making roster would be Patriots' latest Cinderella story

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Rookies joined the New England Patriots' full-team virtual meetings for the first time this week, which gave defensive tackle Bill Murray another chance to earn his "Stripes."

This could be a lot of fun.

"He's hilarious," said Keenan Carter, the defensive line coach at William & Mary. "He kept our whole entire unit going."

Murray might have slipped a joke or two into Carter's meetings, but make no mistake: His knack for lightening things up like the famous comedian and actor whose name he shares is in striking contrast to his all-business play on the field.

That's what caught the Patriots' attention and made Murray a candidate to potentially continue an impressive streak: In each of the past 16 seasons, at least one undrafted rookie has made New England's initial 53-man roster. That is the third-longest such streak in the NFL, behind those of the Los Angeles Chargers (23) and Indianapolis Colts (21).

Murray falls into the category of "priority free agent," a player who could have been a late-round pick but slipped through. Reflective of that, his contract includes more guaranteed money ($125,000) than is in the contract of Patriots seventh-round pick Dustin Woodard ($97,324).

By the time the final round of April's draft rolled around, a case could've been made that Murray was better off being able to pick his destination as a free agent, and the Patriots had obvious appeal to him.

They hadn't selected a defensive tackle among their 10 draft picks. Their system is similar to the one Murray played in at William & Mary in 2019. And they have a notable history of giving undrafted free agents a chance.

What drew the Patriots to Murray is obvious: He is as relentless as Carl Spackler in "Caddyshack" -- just with a better success rate.

"He has unbelievable talent. He's so passionate about the game. That's why I love Bill so much. And character-wise, he's an awesome leader," Carter said. "He has a bright future."

The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Murray was a three-year starter for the Tribe, totaling 143 tackles, 19 sacks, four forced fumbles and 10 blocked kicks (insert Patriots coach Bill Belichick's smile here). But as is often the case with statistics in football, they don't tell the complete story.

In 2019, William & Mary switched coaching staffs. That meant Murray had to learn a new defense, one that is similar to what New England runs, which new head coach Mike London brought with him from his time coaching under former Patriots assistant Al Groh at Virginia.

"It's that Belichick, [Bill] Parcells, [Nick] Saban, the whole [coaching tree] -- a similar defense, probably with some of the similar calls," said Carter, who played in the scheme at Virginia before embarking on his coaching career. "We're based out of a 3-4 but also multiple, playing 4-down [linemen] as well. So Bill had been used to a certain scheme, but he was like, 'Coach, teach me.' Every day, it was questions, and he thrived in it."

Murray's primary role was at nose tackle, where the Patriots are in transition after veteran Danny Shelton signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency. Veteran Lawrence Guy, free-agent signee Beau Allen and 2019 fifth-round draft choice Byron Cowart are atop the defensive tackle depth chart, with fourth-year player Adam Butler an effective sub-rusher.

If Murray breaks through, it would be similar to 2005, when undrafted nose tackle Mike Wright (Cincinnati) overcame longer odds to make the roster. Wright played seven seasons for the Patriots, with his special-teams contributions carving out an initial niche and kick-starting the impressive streak of at least one undrafted player sticking.

"We've always gotten contributions out of somebody from that group," Belichick noted after this year's draft.

Some around the NFL envision the possibility of more undrafted players emerging this year, in part because of how the coronavirus pandemic affected scouting. There were fewer pro days to gather testing information, which might have hurt some under-the-radar prospects like the athletic, world-traveling Murray, who ran a sub-5.0 time in the 40-yard dash in his training.

"It's obviously really weird and unfortunate," Murray told William & Mary's website before the draft. "It's kind of tough that you put all this effort in, and you're not able to test the way you were supposed to. Basically, all the plans went out the window, which was kind of a bummer."

Carter said he spoke with all 32 NFL teams about Murray before the draft, and as Murray's contract reflects, he had multiple offers after not being selected. Carter told teams that Murray, of Millington, New Jersey, was one of his team's hardest workers who was always hard on himself -- the type of player who showed up every day with a consistent, hard-working approach.

Call it a "Groundhog Day" approach for Bill Murray, one of the Patriots' top undrafted free agents to watch.