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Kenneth Murray Jr., ‘glossy’ legs and all, is the Chargers’ new man in the middle

Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray prepares to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL football scouting combine Feb. 29.
Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray prepares to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL football scouting combine Feb. 29 in Indianapolis.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

The Chargers enter the 2020 season deep at linebacker. Deep, and descriptive.

Though official NFL records are sketchy regarding such matters, this is believed to be the only team in training camp that featured one linebacker referring to another linebacker as “glossy.”

That’s the word Drue Tranquill said he used with teammate Derwin James in a conversation about Kenneth Murray Jr.

“This guy looks like he could be a bodybuilder with those legs, huh?” Tranquill said he told James during a walk-through. “Just all glossy, man, those things are massive, like redwood trees.”

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Murray made a first impression a memorable one for the Chargers, the team that in April traded into the first round to draft the former Oklahoma linebacker 23rd overall.

Back in the spring, he promised to bring size and speed to a defense trending toward younger contributors and more athleticism. And that’s precisely what Murray — all 6 feet 2, 241 pounds of him — delivered when summer arrived.

An in-depth look at the Rams, Chargers and the rest of the NFL ahead of the 2020 season.

“I’ve seen potential of a great player,” defensive end Melvin Ingram said. “He’s got instincts. He’s physical. He can run. He’s going to be a special player in this league, in due time.”

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Murray amassed 335 tackles — 37 of them for lost yardage — in three years at Oklahoma. He built his game and his name on being able to run from one sideline to the other in pursuit of the football.

The Chargers were so excited to have the opportunity to add Murray that coach Anthony Lynn’s voice was audibly heightened during a session with reporters on the first night of the draft.

“He’s definitely going to be a physical presence out there,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “He’s a run-and-hit guy. Things come natural to him. He understands leverage. The speed of the game ... I think he’s adjusting well to that. He’s progressing nicely.”

Murray was with the No. 1 defense in late August when the Chargers staged their main full-team scrimmage. He started in place of returning veteran Denzel Perryman, who was dealing with a physical issue.

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Regardless of how he gets on the field, Murray figures to play plenty as the franchise’s most anticipated defensive rookie since James, who emerged in 2018 to become an All-Pro and one of the game’s most versatile safeties.

Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray stretches during practice
Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray stretches during practice. “This guy looks like he could be a bodybuilder with those legs, huh?” Drue Tranquill recently said of his new Chargers teammate.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

“Things come pretty easy to him,” Bradley said of Murray. “If he makes a mistake, he understands that pretty quickly, what he did wrong and what he needs to do to fix it.”

The Chargers have become known for building positional versatility on defense, from linemen who can play inside and outside to cornerbacks who can line up on the perimeter or in the slot.

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But with Murray, they decided to have him concentrate on middle linebacker during his first NFL training camp, as several fellow linebackers shuffled around.

The idea was to allow Murray to attempt to master one position, and also putting him in a spot where he could most influence the game.

“I think it’s smart on their part to just allow me to focus on one position ... ” Murray said. “I feel myself playing extremely fast. I think there’s definitely a level I can get up to even more. I’m focused on getting to that point.”

Turns out, the spot Murray can have his greatest impact — not surprisingly — is directly in the middle of the field, the middle of the defense, the middle of everything.

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Bradley explained that starting Murray there permits him to run either right or left, based on what he reads up front. He can first use his speed and then his size to disrupt the offense.

Chargers GM Tom Telesco believes teams will be adjusting their rosters a lot to start the season, and no one really knows what kind of team they have yet.

“It appears that he has both,” Bradley said. “Now, it’s just putting it together and recognizing things.”

As a middle linebacker, Murray also often will be responsible for calling signals on the field. The assignment asks for a maturity some rookies might not possess. But Murray is the sort of rookie who took part of the first money he earned as a professional to buy his parents a house.

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“You got to be mature because ... you run the huddle, you run the defense really,” Ingram said. “You get us lined up. You tell us what the call is. So you have to be mature.”

Said Lynn: “I have no problem with him and his maturity and handling that role. He definitely has a presence. He’s been a captain. He’s been a leader his whole life.”

Murray certainly has the body of a grownup and the game to match. His addition is one reason Bradley called this group of linebackers “the strongest” he has had in his four seasons with the Chargers.

In recent years, injuries have decimated the group, particularly in 2018 when Bradley was forced to rely heavily on defensive backs, often employing seven at once.

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That shouldn’t be an issue in 2020, thanks in part to Murray, who dealt with a minor injury in training camp but appears healthy now after missing some time.

“I hate being out,” he said. “I hate being away from the guys. I feel out of place when I’m not in the game. Not being able to participate and standing in the back ... It hurts me. It hurts me because I’m all ball.”


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