Gritty Trent Murphy aims to carve out a role among Redskins’ outside linebackers


Redskins rookie Trent Murphy is expected to bring depth to the team’s linebacking corps. “I’m just trying to fit in wherever the coaches will put me in,” he said. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Five days into Washington Redskins training camp, here’s what coaches and teammates find so impressive about Trent Murphy, the team’s 6-foot-5, 258-pound rookie outside linebacker:

• He reports to practice early.

• He has the playbook nearly committed to memory.

• He’s quick for a big man, and a quick study on matters of technique.

• He’s versatile enough to be used multiple ways, blessed with smarts, nimble feet and a long reach.

And should he be called upon, Murphy can also rope a steer, heave a hot-water heater and flip a tractor tire.

“He’s a true, football-playing grinding machine,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said of the team’s top draft pick as camp got underway.

On Monday, Murphy flashed his promise in a drill with the first-team defense, plowing past right guard Chris Chester for what would have been a surefire sack of quarterback Robert Griffin III.

That’s not to say that Murphy, whose 15 sacks led the NCAA last year, emerged from Stanford a finished product. Earlier in camp he lost containment on one play that cost the defense a 70-yard touchdown.

But by all accounts, he’s the sort of player who won’t repeat the same mistake twice. He’s as hard on himself as any coach.

“I’m amazed at how quickly he has grasped the playbook,” fourth-year linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “The coaches have really put a good amount on him as a rookie, and he has handled it so smoothly.”

The Redskins have invested plenty in their linebacking corps in recent years, expending first-round picks on Brian Orakpo in 2009 and Kerrigan in 2011, but they haven’t gotten tremendous payback.

The pass rush was a particular weakness last season. It wasn’t so much for lack of talent on the part of Orakpo and Kerrigan, who boast three Pro Bowls between them, as it was a lack of depth.

The selection of Murphy in the second round of the draft (47th overall) — along with the signing of defensive end Jason Hatcher, who had 11 sacks for Dallas last season but has yet to see action in camp after undergoing knee surgery in June — represents an effort to remedy that.

With the Redskins ranked 20th against the pass last season, Murphy won’t have the luxury of a lengthy apprenticeship. Coaches want to throw him into the mix quickly, sometimes lining him up alongside Kerrigan and Orakpo, other times spelling them.

“We’re all going to kind of flip around,” said Kerrigan, who worked at right outside linebacker Monday after taking snaps the previous days on the left side. “We want to be more versatile this year and have more options.”

Murphy should give defensive coordinator Jim Haslett one more piece to add to that jigsaw puzzle, as well as a sorely needed insurance policy should Kerrigan or Orakpo, who’s playing under a one-year contract with the franchise tag, get injured.

One of six children, Murphy, who could pass for an outsize younger brother of NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., was reared in Mesa, Ariz., where hard, physical labor often doubles as fun. He counts wrestling steer among his hobbies and lettered in basketball, track and football in high school.

At Stanford, he excelled in the 3-4 defense and in his junior year also threw the discus for the Cardinal track and field team.

Rather than enter the 2013 NFL draft after his senior year, Murphy returned to Stanford for a fifth year of eligibility and was named captain of the squad that won the Pacific-12 championship.

He prepared for the Redskins preseason by joining his father, who runs a plumbing company, and brother in a workout regimen they invented called “The Big Man’s Relay.” It starts with a “farmer’s walk,” in which you carry two water heaters as if toting two giant suitcases, proceeds to sledge-hammering and flipping a giant tire, and closes with a water heater toss.

“They can make something out of nothing,” Murphy said with a laugh. “It’s pretty impressive what they do back there.”

Monday at Redskins training camp, outside linebackers coach Brian Baker was seeking more refined technique as he ran his charges — Orakpo, Kerrigan, sixth-year veteran Rob Jackson, Adrian Robinson, Gabe Miller and Murphy — through pass-rushing drills.

A former linebacker at Maryland, Baker, 52, represents a significant part of Haslett’s effort to upgrade the linebacking corps. He was hired in January to coach the team’s outside linebackers, while Kirk Olivadotti was named to coach the inside linebackers.

And since camp opened, Baker, who’s credited with developing such Pro Bowlers as Julius Peppers, Jay Ratliff and Robert Porcher in previous NFL stints, has displayed a meticulous eye for detail.

“Eyes up! Eyes up all the time!” Baker barked as Orakpo, Kerrigan and the others took turns racing toward a tackling dummy, knocking it down, then cutting toward a second dummy with an outstretched “arm” and taking a furious swipe at an imaginary football.

“Speed and hips!” Baker yelled. “That’s how you get to the quarterback! That’s how you finish plays. That’s how you get off blocks!”

Lean and fit, Baker held the dummy to make it more difficult and fixated on each player’s positioning, shouting adjustments like a benevolent drill sergeant, more intent on building his players up than tearing them down.

“Trent, drop your hips!” Baker shouted, seeking to maximize the rookie’s leverage, and ordered a do-over.

“Much better! Much better!”

Murphy soaked it up like a sponge.

“Love Coach Baker,” Murphy said. “You can tell he wakes up every morning and he prays and then he starts thinking about how he’s going to make us better. He brings it every day — to the meeting room, to the field. He’s intense.”

Kerrigan shares the sentiment.

“He is very particular, and that’s what’s awesome,” Kerrigan said. “He sees little things as a rusher that I would never see. He talks about when your hips are upfield, that’s where you’re going to go. But if your hips are directed at the quarterback, that’s where you’re going. It sounds common sense. But to get your body to do that, that’s a tough thing when you’ve got a 320-pound guy in your way.”

Camp may be just five days old, but Murphy says he can’t believe how much his football knowledge has already grown.

“I’m just trying to get better every day and play faster,” he said. “I’m just trying to fit in wherever the coaches will put me in.”

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