The task is impossible and no one really expected them to accomplish it anyway.
When the Redskins gathered for rookie minicamp over the weekend, coach Jay Gruden and his staff tried to teach a new language to the draft picks and undrafted free agents who assembled for a crash course in NFL terminology.
Former Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy, the organization’s second-round draft pick, looked more comfortable than most. With experience playing in a 3-4 defense in college, Murphy was able to take instruction from the Redskins’ coaches and implement it at the tempo they wanted.
That’s easier said than done for players who can be left breathless after three days of activity that includes physicals, classroom instruction and four practices crammed into 48 hours on Friday and Saturday
“Some of the guys who are working outside ‘backer have never done it before and you can tell their head is spinning a little more,” Murphy said. “Some of the calls were the same for me at Stanford and so the learning curve isn’t as great for me as some of the guys.”
Murphy worked on the left side at outside linebacker in drills, but said there is only so much he can learn in such a compact set of practices. What he saw in a minicamp will help some, especially his one-on-one battles with Morgan Moses, an offensive tackle out of Virginia chosen by Washington in the third round.
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Coaches emphasized keeping Murphy’s outside hand up on a quarterback bootleg, the better to disrupt their view and bat a ball down. And, of course, don’t jump in the air to knock down a pass. A linebacker can be made to look foolish that way. But those are smaller, fundamental things. There are plenty more lessons in store from outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, especially fine-tuning some pass-rush techniques.
Murphy may play behind Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, two established players already at his spot. But he still must be ready. The knock on Murphy coming out of college was his speed for an outside linebacker. His 40-yard dash time didn’t rank among the best at that position and some critics wondered if the team had reached for him with the 48th overall pick after trading down in the second round. While acknowledging that weakness, Gruden said there are ways around it, too.
“[Murphy is] great off the snap and if you have quickness off the snap and you have great length, you make up for a lot of your speed deficiency,” Gruden said. “He’s got a wide variety of moves and Coach Baker’s only going to make him better and better. He’s got a long way to go, but we’re excited to work with a guy that’s 6-foot-5-and-a-half and with room to get bigger and stronger and has the arsenal of moves that he has.”
Gruden noted that Murphy can countermove on an offensive lineman, isn’t predictable — Stanford moved him all over the field — and puts a good spin move to use. He also dropped into coverage more often than credited with during college and says he is comfortable doing so. Still, on pass-rush attempts Moses held his own with Murphy at Saturday’s practices that were open to the media. The two had seen each other at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, in January.
“I’ve seen him just out here for four practices and [with] what I saw on college tape, he’s effective both standing up and with his hand down,” Gruden said. “You don’t lead the nation in sacks unless you’re versatile in what you do and how you line up and how you rush.”
Murphy, 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, switched to outside linebacker as a sophomore at Stanford, was a three-year starter and led the nation in sacks with 15 as a senior. That final season for the Cardinal included two forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown.
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But the lessons came fast and furious this weekend at rookie camp in his first taste of action at the pro level and soon they must be implemented against NFL-caliber competition. Murphy believes that he is ready for the challenge.
“For me, it’s really about just getting better,” Murphy said. “Every moment or day you’re getting better or you’re getting worse. And I don’t have any room to get worse. I’ve just got to keep moving forward.”