PHOENIX — Three practices into training camp for the 2021 season, Kyler Murray still hasn’t been able to shake the bitter taste of how the 2020 season ended for the Arizona Cardinals.
“It’s really frustrating. You're on a playoff-type of team and you don't make the playoffs. I mean, you look at all the negative things that we did to ourselves, that's the most frustrating. You can accept getting beat, but when you do it to yourself, it's tough,” Murray said. “I think everybody should have that feel of anger and want to get back out there, but that's just me. That's how I feel.”
As the Cardinals turn the page ahead of a new season with playoff-or-bust expectations, Murray was quick to point out the area he wants to improve most heading into year three as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
“Me personally, limiting the turnovers,” he said. “That's one thing I feel, is as far as offense goes, we're pretty good. I know we have a lot to get better at, but I think we led the NFL in stalled drives as far as penalties and, obviously, turnovers. So I feel like if we don't hurt ourselves, we're hard to stop.”
Kliff Kingsbury has noticed a maturation in his young quarterback and said their conversations have shifted from X’s and O’s to more about philosophy and leadership.
“Going into year three, I just feel like he really feels like it's his team now,” said Kingsbury. “That ownership aspect has definitely grown. Just in practices when things don't go well, I mean, he's handling that type of the ups and downs a lot better than those first two years when I think he felt like the weight of the world was on and he had to be perfect every play. He understands now, in this game, it's not about that. It's about finding a way at the end.”
While perfection isn’t attainable, certainly not in the NFL, Murray bristled at tempering expectations.
“Just because it's the league, I'm not trying to be average. I never will be,” Murray said. “I want to strive to be perfect. Obviously being perfect is very tough, very hard, maybe not a thing, but we're gonna get damn close.”
“Particularly a kid who never lost, literally never lost in high school, lost very few games in college, had very few sub-par games,” said Kingsbury of Murray learning to deal with adversity. “And so you get into this league and you're the number one pick and you're trying to build a team, you're gonna have some ups and downs, but he's handled it well. He's responded every step of the way, and he's definitely in his best place mentally going into this camp.”
How far the Cardinals can go will hinge largely on Murray taking a giant leap from year two to year three, much like Bills QB Josh Allen did last year.
A good season will mean a massive payday for Murray during the offseason, something he said makes him uncomfortable talking about.
“I've never played this game for money. Never played any sport for money,” Murray said. “You never know when your last play is, your last breath. So I just literally take it day-by-day.”
Along with another year of growth for Murray, adding a Pro Bowl center, a former All-Pro wide receiver as a #2 option, and a veteran running back on offense along with a healthy Chandler Jones, and bringing J.J. Watt into the mix, the Cardinals look poised to take that next step, at least on paper.
“I like where we're at as a squad. I like the feel of our team,” Murray said. “I feel like we're already close. The egos aren't really there. Everybody just wants to get better each and every day. This being year three, knowing the offense damn near like the back of my hand. Being able to tell these guys what I want, what I'm looking for, and veteran receivers understanding. They already kind of had the feel for it, we just got to get on the same page and then add the young guys with the talent. Now, I think the sky's the limit for us defensively. We got, I mean, look at the defense. There's no reason why we shouldn't be great on that side of the ball. So, I think it's about us all just putting it together and taking it to Sundays.”