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Kingsbury: Cardinals rookies Byron Murphy, Kyler Murray impressed

Detroit Lions defensive back C.J. Moore (49) lines up against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy (33) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

One of the central pillars of maintaining a successful sports franchise is hitting on draft picks on a regular basis. So consider it a good sign, Arizona Cardinals fans, that the team’s first two selections in this year’s NFL Draft had a solid debut on Sunday.

In Week 1 against the Lions, rookie quarterback and first overall pick Kyler Murray was the story, and for good reason. After three quarters of stagnant offense, the Cardinals turned it on in the fourth quarter and charged back as Murray, playing his first pro game, led the Cardinals to 18 fourth-quarter points to force overtime. The Cardinals and Detroit eventually tied, 27-27.

Murray was among the Cardinals rookies by whom head coach Kliff Kingsbury said he was encouraged when he joined Bickley & Marotta on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Monday.

“What I told [Murray] was just how proud I was of the way he fought,” Kingsbury said. “That’s easy in that situation to lay it down. It’s about as bad as you could have things going there for three quarters, and he didn’t blink. He kept fighting and running around and making plays. It wasn’t always pretty, but you bring yourself back from 18 points in the fourth quarter in your first start ever, that says a lot about your mental toughness, and we’ll continue to get better.”

Murray finished the day 29-of-54 on passing for 308 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

But joining Murray was Murphy, who also had a strong debut after going 33rd overall this past April.

“I think Byron Murphy, for his first start as a rookie, really was physical in the run game,” Kingsbury said. “Stuck his nose in there, had some big tackles. There’s things we can build off of there.”

In the absence of Patrick Peterson (suspension) and Robert Alford (leg), Murphy started and made five combined tackles as the Cardinals limited the Lions to just seven points in the second half.

“Once you get kind of those couple of plays out of the way, you kind of settle down,” Murphy said after the game. “But before the game, I was very nervous. It was the first game, being a rookie. But once the play’s going, I kind of settled down and got better.”

For what it’s worth, Kingsbury also mentioned wide receiver Damiere Byrd, who is not a rookie, as one of the players that stood out to him from Sunday’s game. He beat out Pharoh Cooper for one of the final receiver spots in training camp, and on Sunday, Byrd caught four passes for 42 yards. His longest gain was 19 yards.

“Damiere Byrd is a guy who made some big catches when we needed him, he’s a guy that just keeps getting better for us,” Kingsbury said.

WHAT WILL BE DIFFERENT IN WEEK TWO?

One of the other NFL rookies in Sunday’s game? The head coach, Kingsbury himself. It was his first regular season game as an NFL head coach, and he said that in his new job, he’s been learning every day. Sunday was no exception, a wacky game that went to overtime and ended in a tie.

“I think every day in this job, you grow,” Kingsbury said. “A first-year NFL head coach, there’s always going to be a new situation, scenario that comes up. And yesterday, going to overtime the first game ever was that, and the dynamics of that and what went into it. So I just try to approach it that way.”

Week 2 at Baltimore won’t be a debut anymore for anyone, including Kingsbury.

It also won’t be the debut of the full playbook, which was kept largely under wraps during the preseason. Bickley & Marotta asked Kingsbury about the balance between getting preseason reps with the plays the team planned to use, weighed against the benefits of keeping things a secret.

“That was a decision that we had to make,” he said. “Do you unveil it and play that style of play in the preseason some and get it done under the lights in game situation? Or do you save it and try to have that element of surprise? Just being honest in the evaluation, maybe it had something to do with the slow start [on Sunday].”

The Cardinals are expected to have wide receiver Michael Crabtree out there for the second week. He was inactive on Sunday after the Cardinals signed him late in the preseason.

“He’s close,” Kingsbury said. “We just wanted to make sure he’s in top shape before we put him out there, and we felt like another week would be great for him and give him a chance to be at his best when he goes out there for the first time.”

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