Trent Murphy has drawn a mixed reaction from fans after being selected by the Washington Redskins in the second round of last week’s NFL draft. With starter Brian Orakpo playing next season on a franchise tag, and little depth behind him and Ryan Kerrigan at the key outside linebacker spots, the Redskins clearly targeted a pass rusher early on to add some security and depth to the position. Coach Jay Gruden gave an honest evaluation of Murphy after the draft:
“We saw in Trent Murphy another guy that can rush a passer. He’s a proven pass rusher – 14-and-a-half sacks this year. He led the country in sacks. He works his tail off. He’s first on the field every day and the last to leave. He studies the game. He’s big, he’s long. He may not have the explosion right now off the line of scrimmage, which might have knocked him down to the second round, but I look for production, I look for intensity, I look for toughness and accountability. He’s got all those traits and if he has all those traits, I know he is going to work hard in the weight room to get stronger and provide another pass rusher and some depth at the position. We felt like he was a very good fit on our team.”
Interestingly, Gruden admitted Murphy’s biggest flaw, a lack of explosion. The elite edge rushers in the NFL have an explosive get off. They always have the threat of beating a tackle round the edge on a speed rush and build the rest of their game around that. Murphy isn’t the exceptional athlete that those elite rushers are. He is much more of a technician, using his own technique and finding flaws in the technique of his blocker to win matchups.
Here we see Murphy lined up outside the left tackle.
Murphy uses his long 33-and-a-half inch arms to land an initial punch to the chest of the left tackle. That allows Murphy to keep the tackle at arm’s length and stop him from getting hands into Murphy’s chest.
Murphy gets his second hand onto the chest of the tackle. The tackle is struggling desperately to keep his balance and get a hand back on Murphy to try to regain some leverage.
Murphy notices the tackle off-balance and drops his hands, pulling down on him.
Murphy quickly disengages and gets past the tackle, forcing the quarterback to step up and escape from the pocket. Murphy didn’t manage to get a sack on the play, but pressured the quarterback to rush his throw.
Murphy won’t beat too many tackles for speed on the edge, as we’ve noted. But good technique and excellent hands still make him a threat on the outside. He also offers a good variety of inside moves, including swim and spin moves.
Like before, we see Murphy lining up outside the left tackle.
Murphy takes the tackle upfield to create space in between the tackle the guard for the inside move.
Murphy then plants his foot and spins sharply back inside into the space he created.
Murphy comes out of the spin move in a great position to pressure the quarterback. Unfortunately, Murphy slips in pursuit of the quarterback and fails to register the sack. But this play still displays an excellent spin move.
Inside moves are crucial for a pass rusher like Murphy who struggles to beat tackles with speed. If you can beat a tackle inside, he’ll be cautious about over-setting outside and leaving too much room back inside. That will give Murphy an extra step outside to help him with his speed rush on the edge.
So while Murphy doesn’t have the exceptional burst that most elite pass rushers have on the edge, he’s shown he can still be effective in rushing the passer. He also displayed a better all-round game than most edge rushers coming out of college. Most pass rushers struggle to play the run early on in their careers, which can stop them from getting much time on the field. Murphy, however, is a very good run defender. He understands what the offense is trying to do with different blocking schemes and how to set the edge to force the run back inside to his help.
Here, the offense is running the ball right at Murphy. USC pulls its right guard to come and kick Murphy outside and create a lane for the running back.
Murphy identifies the run quickly. He attacks the pulling guard head on to squeeze the play while still taking an outside position to force the play back inside.
Murphy gets his pad level low and uses a strong base to fight through the block of the pulling guard.
Murphy comes through the block and chases down the runner, having forced him back inside to his help. Murphy wraps up the runner for no gain.
There aren’t many rookie edge defenders that would have made similar plays in college. Most struggle to set and maintain an edge, let alone against a pulling guard. Murphy made plays like this on a consistent basis in the running game. That will allow Murphy to come in and be effective in spot snaps to relieve Brian Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan regardless of the situation, as Gruden mentioned when asked about how Murphy will be used:
“Coach Haslett has a lot of plans for him, but coming in right now, he’s going to line up obviously at outside linebacker, back up Ryan [Kerrigan] and Brian [Orakpo] and provide us with some depth at that position. Anybody [who] knows the 3-4 [knows] you need to have depth at linebacker because those guys are working their tail off. They’re dropping [into] coverage, they’re rushing the passer, so it’s very important in this day and age with no huddle that you keep guys fresh and you’re able to filter in guys in and out and make sure you can continue to get after the quarterback.”
Murphy’s ability against the run as well as his pass-rushing skills will help Washington rotate Orakpo and Kerrigan, keeping them fresh to rush the passer on crucial third downs, without experiencing a huge drop off when they are out of the game. Gruden also briefly touched on the potential of Murphy playing in nickel packages:
“More so the nickel packages. You know nickel packages get pretty extravagant nowadays.”
Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett drew up a nickel package that we saw last preseason, but rarely during the regular season. It involved a four-man rush attack consisting of three linebackers and one defensive lineman.
In this package, Kerrigan moved inside and put his hand in the dirt as a defensive tackle. That freed up a spot at outside linebacker for Brandon Jenkins to fill. Washington had some success with this package in preseason last year, but went away from it during the regular season. But with the addition of Jason Hatcher on the defensive line and Trent Murphy in the draft, I wonder if this is one of the ‘extravagant’ nickel packages that Haslett will revisit. Murphy has the ability to slide inside like Kerrigan did in the picture above, or take Jenkins’s spot on the outside. A combination of Hatcher and Orakpo attacking the left side of the offensive line, along with Kerrigan’s quickness inside could leave Murphy with plenty of one-on-one matchups against right tackles.
It will certainly be interesting to see exactly what they have planned for Murphy. While some fans might be disappointed with his lack of explosion, the Redskins have added a versatile player that has more to his game than just relying on athleticism. His impact, at least initially, might not always be obvious. But if he can relieve Orakpo, who has struggled with injuries, and Kerrigan, who rarely gets a snap off, to keep them fresh without a noticeable drop off, his impact will be felt by the rest of the team.
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