On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers get their first chance to play against rookie Kyler Murray, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NFL draft and the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.
“He’s a nightmare,” Panthers defensive coordinator Eric Washington said of Murray, who is so athletic that the Oakland A’s picked him No. 9 overall as an outfielder in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft and still hold his baseball rights should he ever switch sports.
That doesn’t seem likely. Murray has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of his first two NFL games, although he is still looking for his first NFL win. His fast start has evoked comparisons to what Cam Newton did as a rookie in 2011, throwing for 400-plus yards in each of his first two starts. Like Murray, Newton is a former No. 1 overall pick and former Heisman Trophy winner.
Washington, though, said a more apt comparison for Murray is Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, mostly because of their similar “stature” (Murray is 5-foot-10; Wilson is 5-11; Newton is 6-5). While all three quarterbacks can run the ball, though, Washington said Murray’s skill set is different.
“The thing that makes Russell and Cam similar, despite the difference in their size, is Russell could play running back in this league,” Washington said. “Russell, with his build and stature, he breaks tackles. Kyler is more of a ‘make-you-miss’ guy with exceptional short-area quickness. I don’t know how much (power running with the quarterback) they would run with a guy like that because of the accumulation of hits on him.”
Murray hasn’t run the ball for any significant yardage yet as a pro quarterback, with six total carries for 17 yards in two games. He ran for 1,001 yards during his Heisman year at Oklahoma, though, while throwing for 4,361 more.
Murray told Arizona-area reporters in his Wednesday press conference that “Sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball is always my first choice.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who calls the defensive signals for his team, noted that Murray “doesn’t necessarily move around to run, as much as trying to buy time for the routes to open up or for people to get downfield.
“One thing you do notice is when he does break the pocket is they have a scramble drill very similar to what you see in Seattle. One guy breaks long, one guy breaks back, one guy breaks across. And so you have to prepared for that.”
Kyle vs. Kyler
One of the oddities of Sunday’s 4:05 p.m. Carolina-Arizona game will be the quarterback who Murray likely will face — Carolina’s Kyle Allen, who once beat out Murray in a competition for the starting quarterback job in 2015 at Texas A&M.
“It was a wild story,” Allen said Wednesday. “Two talented kids in the same room … Two young kids in the same room…. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Allen acknowledged, though, that he and Murray “were never super-tight” and that he didn’t keep in contact with Murray following that one season with the Aggies.
Murray didn’t back up Allen all that season, though. Sometimes Murray came in for “wildcat” run packages, and sometimes he started when Allen struggled in what turned out to be an 8-5 season. They both ended up transferring after the tumultuous year ended — Allen first, and then Murray.
“We were together seven months there and then both split and went our separate ways,” said Allen, who grew up in Arizona and played high school football in Scottsdale, only a 40-minute drive from the Cardinals’ Stadium.
Murray, speaking to reporters in Arizona Wednesday, was asked about his time at Texas A&M with Allen and what he thought about Allen possibly starting Sunday.
Murray said: “I really don’t care” before laughing and saying he was just kidding. But then he said again “I really don’t care” when asked the question once more about whether Allen starts or not. It was quite apparent from both young quarterbacks’ interviews that the two are acquaintances at this point who respect each other’s work. But they are far from bosom buddies.
Two different paths to Sunday
Murray’s transfer — he didn’t address it publicly Wednesday except to call his time at Texas A&M “a tough situation” — worked out far better than Allen’s did. Murray left for Oklahoma, where he first backed up Baker Mayfield, then became the starter and won the Heisman in 2018 after a remarkable season (42 passing touchdowns, 12 rushing touchdowns). That led Murray to become the NFL draft’s No. 1 pick for Arizona in 2019.
Allen went to Houston, where he won but then lost the starting job, then left for the NFL and went undrafted in 2018. He made a fleeting reference Wednesday to “all that crap I went through in college.”
The Panthers signed Allen as an undrafted free agent, put him on the practice squad, released him, re-signed him, promoted him, started him against New Orleans in the final game of the 2018 season when both Cam Newton and Taylor Heinicke got hurt and now appear likely to start Allen again against Arizona with Newton nursing an aggravated foot injury that kept him out of practice both Tuesday and Wednesday.
So now Murray and Allen will be on a field together again, but on opposite sides. The Panthers know that Murray has taken eight sacks over the first two games — the Cardinals’ offensive line is iffy — and will try to pressure the rookie into some mistakes.
So on Sunday, Murray will go after his first win. Assuming he starts, Allen will go after his second. And the post-game handshake may bear watching.