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Cardinals’ Kyler Murray improves in free time, getting out of comfort zone

Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals drops back to pass during the first half of the NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium on October 31, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — It was after a Week 3 defeat against the Carolina Panthers that served as a low point for Arizona Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray.

The quarterback took eight sacks in a 38-20 home loss and threw two interceptions. The next day, Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury admitted that the negative plays weren’t the only thing that the No. 1 overall pick could improve upon.

“Body language is something as a young player that you’re going to work through and work on,” Kingsbury said. “I like that he’s a competitor, but I think at times you’ve got to be stoic, if you will, and just play the next play.”

Murray threw an interception the next week in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, but what’s followed since that game appears to be a distinct segment of his rookie season. Murray hasn’t thrown an interception in the last 172 passing attempts over five games since then, and the Cardinals have gone 3-2 in that span.

“Whatever I see, I trust my eyes, trust my reads, trust the guys running routes and kind of just let it go,” Murray said Wednesday. “I can’t play scared or anything like that.”

While Murray’s passer rating spiked above 78 in just one of the first four games, it’s been higher than 78 in four of the last five games.

“The biggest thing that I’ve seen him make strides in is ball security, eliminating negative plays and just overall how he carries himself in the building, the preparation and the leadership qualities,” Kingsbury said.

“I think collectively as an offense we’re better because we’re understanding who we are and trying to maximize our personnel. The game’s slowed down for him a bit. I think he’s getting through his progressions better.”

Kingsbury said Murray has ticked all the boxes in terms of preparing himself each week. A lot of that is about what the quarterback does in his free time.

There is no more class to attend, homework to do or baseball to play. His new lifestyle has allowed him to watch plenty of film, something that his father ingrained in Murray dating back to his pee-wee days (credit Murray’s mother for providing the tape, as she was behind the camera lens).

“You almost have too much time. I’ve never had this much time ever playing football and being able to just play football and watch football and do football,” he said.

Settling into a routine has been helpful. Obviously, so has the in-game experience.

When it comes to his leadership, Murray is a couple more months into building trust with his teammates. That part has maybe been the biggest challenge for Murray, whose quiet nature might not fit his position of starting quarterback to a T.

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said a few weeks ago that he’s urged Murray to speak up if he feels like it’s warranted. Not being the personality to lead rah-rah huddles doesn’t mean Murray hasn’t built relationships with the team’s veterans, however.

He’s slowly opening up, Kingsbury said.

“Just as a young player coming in and being asked to be the leader of this entire organization, the face of the franchise, that’s a tall task,” Kingsbury said. “He’s kind of introverted, as y’all have seen, by nature, but he’s starting to understand you have to get out of your comfort zone to be that guy.

“I think his teammates are starting to understand what he’s about. He’s about winning, and he’s about competing at the highest level. It’s been a good mix for those guys to see what he’s about, and then him get around them and get comfortable with them and our staff, I think that’s just grown as the season’s gone on.”

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