DAN BICKLEY

Kyler Murray looked poised, under control in first Cardinals action

Aug 8, 2019, 9:10 PM
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - AUGUST 08: Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the b...
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - AUGUST 08: Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL preseason game at State Farm Stadium on August 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

NFL cities have special relationships with their quarterbacks. Through victory and vitriol. For better or worse.

Few begin with the promise of Kyler Murray and the Cardinals. And surely there will be rough days ahead. But Thursday wasn’t one of them.

Murray’s official rollout was a one-series appearance that checked the boxes and stoked the imagination. If you’re still tapping the brakes, you’re in the wrong vehicle.

Here’s what you missed:

The dart show. Quick-release passes that were more like exclamation points, hitting receivers in stride. The assortment of arm angles Murray developed as a baseball player, honed to beat bigger football players standing in his path. Whatever jitters Murray should’ve felt seemed to last all of one play.

Just like that, he was acclimated to big-time football.

We all saw a glimpse of his skills, from the technique to the timing, a quarterback always on the tip of his toes. There was the accuracy and athleticism, the composure and the cool.

The implications are staggering.

It was all there when the Murray Era began at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. It was a much-anticipated event that began suddenly, after a turnover forced by newcomer Jordan Hicks, an unforeseen change of possession that gave the Cardinals the ball at their own 2-yard line.

Murray’s first snap came out of his own end zone. The field position couldn’t been worse. Or less of a problem.

“I liked the way he came out,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury told the Cardinals’ Lisa Matthews at halftime. “He was cutting it loose, playing at a high level.”

That seemed irrefutable.

Murray’s debut didn’t draw a frenzy of ticketholders to Glendale. There were only a handful of lonely tailgaters on the Great Lawn. It’s preseason football in August, after all.

But by the time the Cardinals’ opening drive had stalled, there were no bad throws from the rookie quarterback and enough good stuff to last another week, at least.

As for self-preservation:

Murray aborted a potential read-option running play earlier than normal, throwing the ball prematurely and hanging Larry Fitzgerald out to dry. Rookie mistake. Discretion over valor.

He also sacked himself on his last play of the night, after bobbling the snap, after watching his offensive line collapsed in front of him. But he managed the moment well, hitting the ground before defenders converged on his smallish frame.

If this is going to work, Murray has to remain on the field. If he wants to be a real pioneer, proving a diminutive quarterback can survive in the NFL, he must limit his exposure and his risk for bodily harm. He must avoid the hero complex and the need for gladiator praise. He must stay upright and winning football games, just like he always has.

The rest of the Cardinals didn’t always fare as well. Trent Sherfield was an exception, flashing at wide receiver. But the first-string defense was no match for the Chargers, stoking fears that nothing has changed on that side of the ball. It was so awful that team president Michael Bidwill noted their porous play during an in-game interview. And after three early handoffs to David Johnson, there was nothing to suggest the Cardinals are sitting on a explosive, resurgent running game.

But Murray seems perfectly at home in the NFL. That’s the good news. You can see it in the small moments of training camp, when it’s Brett Hundley’s turn to get some reps. Murray walks around like he owns the place. You sense none of the inevitable anxiety most rookie quarterbacks try to hide, like ducks paddling furiously underwater. And you saw none of it on the field Thursday night against the Chargers.

This was as good as it gets. For a start. For what it’s worth.

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Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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