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Black Quarterbacks

Fellow black QBs inspire rookie Kyler Murray’s confidence going into training camp

‘I really haven’t thought about losing,’ Murray said. ‘I don’t plan on it.’

GLENDALE, Ariz. — At only 21, Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray isn’t far removed from rooting for his favorite players and dreaming of making a mark in the NFL.

“Michael Vick and Russell Wilson. I watched them the most,” Murray said on the first day of training camp Wednesday. “We’re all sort of the same in stature. We’re sort of the same in how we play the game. And just knowing that they did it against the best, succeeded against the best, it definitely helps. But at the same time, I’m a confident guy. I trust in my ability.”

The Cardinals do as well.

After selecting Murray first overall in the 2019 NFL draft, they’re counting on the Heisman Trophy winner to be the cornerstone of their latest rebuilding project. Murray figures to benefit from his familiarity with the Air Raid offense, a version of which he thrived in at Oklahoma, that new Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury will direct. How quickly Murray adapts to the NFL will be a major factor in determining whether this reboot works.

Other quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall have sprinted out of the gate. Murray is determined to be the next one.

“I really haven’t thought about losing,” Murray said. “I don’t plan on it.”

Among African American passers, Murray is the fifth to be picked first overall in the NFL draft. None had ascended to the top spot until 2001, when the Atlanta Falcons chose Vick. Of the group, Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers, 2011) has had the most decorated career. Newton was The Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the 2015 AP Most Valuable Player and has led the Panthers to four playoff berths and a Super Bowl appearance.

Murray most admires how Newton has guided the Panthers to success, “because that’s why you play the game. It’s about doing everything you can as a quarterback to put your team in the best position to win. That’s what I want to do.”

Throughout his accomplished prep and college football careers, Murray has done it better than most who have played the sport’s most important position.

As a high school senior, he was among the nation’s most coveted recruits, having never lost a game in three seasons as a starting quarterback and leading Allen High in Allen, Texas, to three straight state championships. Also a standout in baseball, Murray was the first player selected to play in Under Armour All-American games for both football and baseball.

Murray accepted a scholarship from Texas A&M, where his father, Kevin, played quarterback. After transferring to Oklahoma, Murray won the Heisman Trophy, also starred on the baseball team and was a first-round draft pick (ninth overall) in 2018 by the Oakland Athletics. The first player to be selected in the first round of both the NFL and MLB drafts, Murray opted to give up baseball in favor of football.

There was a time in the NFL when a quarterback of Murray’s height (at the scouting combine, Murray was measured at 5 feet, 10 inches) would not have been selected in the first round, let alone first overall. Seventy-four players were selected ahead of Wilson (5 feet, 11 inches), who went in the third round in 2012. But then Wilson helped the Seattle Seahawks win a Super Bowl en route to becoming a future Hall of Famer, and, well, NFL decision-makers began re-evaluating their anachronistic thoughts about what’s the prototypical size for the position. In 2018, the Cleveland Browns chose Baker Mayfield (6-foot-1), whom Murray backed up at Oklahoma, first overall. Mayfield is a rock star.

With the Sooners, Murray and Mayfield both won Heisman Trophies under head coach Lincoln Riley, who learned the Air Raid offense at Texas Tech while he backed up Kingsbury at quarterback and later served as an assistant coach. At least in terms of knowing the Cardinals’ offense, Murray is much further along than most rookie signal-callers.

“It’s helped me a lot, just coming in and being more comfortable,” Murray said. “If I was to go anywhere else and play for another [head coach], I would have to learn a whole new system, a whole new offense. It would be a lot harder, obviously. But for me coming into this system, day one, I was a lot more comfortable than any other quarterback” on the roster.

Of course, there’s a lot more to succeeding as an NFL quarterback than merely being comfortable with terminology. The Cardinals need an infusion of talent. They last qualified for the postseason in 2015 and have made the playoffs just six times since the 1976 season. Last season, Arizona went 3-13, fired head coach Steve Wilks after only one season and replaced him with Kingsbury, who has no NFL coaching experience.

The Cardinals have many unanswered questions. Their young quarterback, however, has no doubts.

“Until you’re actually on the field [in the NFL], all you can do is visualize, visualize, visualize,” Murray said. “For me, I’ve always visualized, ‘OK. How does he [Vick] do it? Or how does he [Wilson] do it?’ Just figuring out ways to better my game. Now, it’s my chance. I don’t have to visualize it; I can do it.”

And if he does it well, young quarterbacks in the future could look at Murray the way he once looked at Vick and Wilson.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.