Kenneth Murray Jr. establishing himself as a potential Chargers cornerstone
“I try to watch all the greats,” the young linebacker said. “One of my goals is to put my name up there with the greats.”
But the team’s other 2020 first-round pick also has established himself as a potential franchise cornerstone.
Murray, taken No. 23 overall, will make his 16th consecutive start Sunday in Kansas City. This season, he has played 92% of the Chargers’ defensive snaps and leads the team with 104 tackles.
Sam Farmer makes his picks and predictions for the final week of the NFL regular season.
“Every week has been a week of growth for me,” Murray said. “Every week has been me seeing something faster, me being able to be a little bit better mentally … I do feel more comfortable now.”
Both Murray and Herbert have emerged following an offseason that was dramatically limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lack of a preseason didn’t stop Murray from earning a starting spot for the Sept. 13 opener in Cincinnati. He finished with eight tackles that day, a significant first step for a player who didn’t turn 22 until mid-November.
“Things looked a little different this year,” Murray said. “But I always pride myself on not making any type of excuses. I have that no-excuse mentality. I came out here and worked every day and got better every week.”
Murray admitted that he has struggled against play action. He said he is still studying the nuances of reading when to stay patient against the run and when to drop into pass coverage.
He also talked about the need to improve his footwork and pre-snap reads, a particularly important element for a player positioned in the middle of the defense and expected to serve as the signal-caller.
The Chargers stripped Murray of those duties for a stretch in the middle of the season because he and the defense were sputtering as the team lost seven of eight games.
“I think that time away from it helped him,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “It kind of slowed things down.”
Murray recently resumed calling plays, those responsibilities including alerting individual players to certain keys, switching signals based on what the offense is showing and making sure everyone is lined up correctly.
The assignment can be an ambitious one, especially for a player who, just a year ago, was finishing his third college season at Oklahoma.
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is trying to stay focused on Sunday’s season finale against the Chiefs with potential offseason changes looming.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Murray said. “It’s definitely a major responsibility and something I take pride in.”
A defining moment for Murray came during the Chargers’ worst loss of the season. On Dec. 6 against New England, he returned from the locker room after halftime to put together his most impressive stretch as a professional.
His season-high 14 tackles included his first sack. Even more striking, Murray did it all while the Chargers were en route to losing 45-0, the largest margin of defeat in franchise history.
He was easily the Chargers’ best player that afternoon, further separating himself because of the emotion with which he played while so many of his teammates looked defeated.
“It’s always important to play with that amount of effort,” Murray said. “To me, losing is unacceptable. What’s worse than losing is when you’re losing and then all of a sudden you slump down.
“For me, it’s all about playing with a standard. I have a personal standard of excellence that I like to abide by, how I like to operate as far as doing things and handling my business.
“That game, whether we were up 50 or down 50, I make no assumptions.”
What’s next for Davis?
Michael Davis is among the defensive regulars who will be unrestricted free agents after the season.
Over the past 2½ years, he has proven himself to be a capable cornerback, one who figures to be in line for a potentially lucrative extension.
Davis dismissed a question about his future, saying he didn’t want to talk about his contract status.
Instead, after being mostly a special teams player for his first season and a half, he credited his emergence to being “a lot more coachable” today.
“Just me as a person, my transition from my rookie year up until now, trying to blossom as a player,” he said. “I think I’ve just taken more of what the coaches are telling me and putting it into my game.”
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn is expecting a tough game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday even though Patrick Mahomes won’t be starting.
Davis, who turns 26 next week, was undrafted out of BYU in 2017. This season, he has 60 tackles, 12 passes defensed and three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Safety Rayshawn Jenkins and linebacker Denzel Perryman also are set to be free agents. The Chargers likely will be interested in keeping both.
Defensive end Melvin Ingram is another free agent but figures to sign elsewhere after nine years with the team.
The Chargers placed cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) and linebacker Malik Jefferson (shoulder) on injured reserve and announced that defensive end Joey Bosa (concussion), safety Rayshawn Jenkins (ankle) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (foot) won’t play Sunday.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen and tight end Hunter Henry also will miss the game. Both are on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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