Opportunity Knocks for Kyle Murphy

Training camp has a weird way of dropping chances for success at the most unexpected moments.

Two weeks ago, Bryan Bulaga was healthy, Jason Spriggs, was firmly entrenched in the top backup spot despite a shaky preseason debut, and Kyle Murphy was coming off one of the worst performances of his professional career following an offseason where he was considered a contender (albeit not an overly strong one) to start at right guard.

Today, Bulaga is injured and his availability for the rest of the preseason (and perhaps the regular season opener) is in doubt, Spriggs has continued his disappointing play, and Murphy is getting reps with the first team.

Opportunity is knocking for the second year tackle, and although it may seem like a bit of a surprise, perhaps it shouldn’t.

Murphy has been groomed for this moment

The case against Murphy has long had more to do with his athleticism than skill, and it’s worth asking if that assessment has as much to do with his physical appearance as anything else. Though they’re close to the same height and weight, Murphy comes across a little bit rounder and a little bit softer looking than Spriggs, whose length and prodigious testing numbers make him look a little bit more like an undersized power forward.

But even assuming that’s an accurate assessment, any lack of athleticism hasn’t slowed Murphy a bit at any point in his football career.

Though he was just a sixth round pick, Murphy boasts a scouting background rivaling that of fan favorite Malachi Dupre, considered the best wide receiver in the country coming out of high school. Rivals.com had Murphy pegged as the third best tackle in the country and the 19th best overall prospect in his graduating class, and while other scouting services ranked him much lower, it wasn’t by much.

Murphy ended up at Stanford, and if he was limited by athleticism, the coaches didn’t notice. Stanford head coach David Shaw played Murphy at both tackle spots and even tight end in a pinch. That was not a surprise to his high school coach either.

“Kyle’s by far the most dominating player I’ve been around,” Murphy’s high school coach Jaime Ortiz said during Murphys college career. “I could probably give you 10, 12 plays where he drove the guy 10 yards back and the guy was on roller skates. That’s just the way Kyle played.”

Understated success in Green Bay

When the Packers traded up for Jason Spriggs, expectations immediately went up accordingly. Not so for Murphy, who has more or less toiled in obscurity until this week.

That’s not to say he hasn’t been noticed. After last year’s preseason tilt against the Oakland Raiders, former beat writer Bob McGinn took special note of Murphy’s performance.

Murphy, the 21st and last tackle drafted, spent most of the second quarter matched against Bruce Irvin, the former Seahawk (25 sacks in four seasons) who received $19 million guaranteed in March. On those same snaps that Mack was wreaking havoc against Spriggs, Irvin never got a sniff against Murphy.
He handled Irvin one-on-one several times. He held his water and stopped Irvin’s tricky spin move. When Irvin penetrated against Murphy on a running play, it was the only time he got the rookie.
For someone towering 6 feet 6½ inches, the 308-pound Murphy moves his body pretty well and his balance isn’t bad. He played in a top program that has produced a lot of offensive linemen. He didn’t seem the least bit intimidated by Irvin, a very promising sign for the Packers.

If it was a promising sign, it didn't result in much playing time. Murphy played just eight snaps in 2016, the only player on offense with single digit snap counts.

It was for that reason, coupled with his underwhelming athletic profile and competition in his position group, that three of the four roster predictions (read: all of Jon's) compiled by The Power Sweep have had Murphy on the outside looking in. Clearly it's time to reconsider.

After a turbulent offseason and a tough early preseason performance, Murphy has now put together what could be the best week of his professional career. Heading into the Packers’ third preseason game, Murphy has a huge opportunity to build on the success of this week. If he can put together a solid performance, it would go a long way towards shoring up any doubts about the Packers’ tackle depth, a suddenly pressing problem.