After weeks of working to improve his pass-rushing skills, Redskins second-year pro Trent Murphy finally appears to have found the effectiveness and consistency he had lacked.
Murphy has a sack in each of his last two games, and in his most recent outing, his sack also forced a fumble, which he recovered. The surge in the last two weeks brought Murphy’s season total to 3.5 sacks (a career high), and gave him his second takeaway of the season (tying a career best).
“I’ve just kinda kept my head down, go to work,” said Murphy, a second-round pick in 2014 who has split time at right outside linebacker with rookie Preston Smith. “I’ve been close other games just wasn’t able to finish on opportunities, or the ball was out just a split-second before that. I just kept chopping wood and it finally paid off.”
During the offseason practices, coach Jay Gruden called Murphy the most improved player on the team because of the dedication he had observed in the Stanford product in the weight room. But Murphy remained a work in progress.
While his strength and instincts had improved, Murphy still has had to work to improve how he engages offensive linemen and fights his way through blocks.
Murphy got his first sack of the season in Week 4 against Philadelphia — at a crucial juncture that helped the Redskins close out the Eagles for a comeback victory — but he then went into a four-game drought before registering half a sack against New Orleans. Two more games passed without Murphy recording a sack, though he did generate more pressure. Then in Week 13 against Dallas, he got his second full sack of the season, and followed that up with the sack-fumble against Chicago last week.
“It’s always tough when you’re working hard every week and not quite getting there, not quite getting the results,” said Murphy. He added that assistant strength and conditioning-skills development coach Joe Kim “has been working with me a lot. He’s just relentlessly positive and encouraging you to work, so having him here has been a big help. … There’s definitely been some improvement with hands and making efficient contact with offensive linemen.”
Managing not only to force the fumble, but recover it as well also signified growth in Murphy’s mental game.
“In college and before, I’ve had hits like that and I just tried to crush the guy and don’t even worry about the ball,” he said. “But I’ve kind of learned that when the quarterback’s not looking for you, if you can think about it, that ball’s right there. I tried to get a hand on it as we were going down, and I felt it bobbling around to our left and I was able to find it.”
Asked about Murphy’s spike in productivity, defensive coordinator Joe Barry gushed about the linebacker.
“I’ve been around a lot of guys that work hard, but you talk about just a lunch-pail guy that comes to work every single day and works his tail off, really works at his craft,” Barry said. “The only thing I can attribute it to is just his hard work and his diligence because he shows up every single day whether it’s in the weight room, whether it’s in the film room, obviously the practice field and working on every aspect of his game, whether it’s setting the edge in the run or pass rush working his hands, working his hips. When a guy is that diligent and that dedicated to his craft, good things are going to eventually show for him. We called that the trifecta, not only getting the sack but getting the sack, causing a fumble and recovering it. That was a big play for us and a big play in the first half.”
Getting results in back-to-back weeks brought a great sense of gratification, especially forcing and recovering the fumble, Murphy said.
“Loved it. Definitely kind of live for those opportunities and moments like that,” he said. “To get a big hit, get the ball out, turn it over and get the offense on the field, it’s exciting.”
Now, Murphy aims to extend his sack streak to three weeks (which would mark a career first) and beyond, in hopes of helping spur his team onto a playoff berth.
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