Kenneth Murray Jr.’s return could give Chargers defense an edge
Spirited defender Kenneth Murray Jr. figures to provide the Chargers with an energy boost when he returns.
He also might bring some newly developed versatility.
Coach Brandon Staley said the team plans on trying Murray as an edge player, potentially expanding his role from inside linebacker.
“That was always the vision for us with him,” Staley said Wednesday, “to get him doing a lot of different jobs because he’s capable of that.”
A first-round pick in 2020, Murray remains on the injured reverse list because of an ankle problem. He resumed practicing last week and could be activated before the Chargers’ next game, Sunday against Minnesota at SoFi Stadium.
In Murray’s absence, Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill have teamed up inside on the defense’s second level. Staley has praised both players individually and as a pair.
NFL roundtable: The Rams face tough second-half schedule and might not catch the Cardinals. Chargers are atop AFC West, but have run-game difficulties.
“Those guys play really well together as a tandem,” he said. “Sometimes who your buddy is, that type of chemistry, really matters. … I think their play styles and personalities feed off one another.”
White and Tranquill combined for 17 tackles last weekend in the Chargers’ 27-24 victory over Philadelphia. For the season, they rank third and fourth, respectively, on the team in tackles.
“Those guys can both play the game in the modern NFL like you need to,” Staley said. “They can run. They’re strong. They’re assets in coverage. They both can rush. They’re our style of linebackers.”
While saying Murray will continue to be used inside, Staley explained that the Chargers would like to employ him more “attacking the quarterback, attacking the line of scrimmage.”
Murray finished last season with a team-high 101 tackles. He had only one sack, in a 45-0 loss to New England.
“K9 is a special-type linebacker,” Staley said. “He can play a lot of different places. … I think we can get him on the edge at times and then get him in some hybrid roles in known pass-rush situations.”
The Chargers could not run on the Eagles for three quarters Sunday, but in the fourth quarter L.A. finally gained ground and a victory.
In college, Murray had 9.5 sacks during his three seasons at Oklahoma. Entering Week 10, the Chargers are tied for 26th in the NFL with 15 sacks.
Opposite Joey Bosa, Uchenna Nwosu and Kyler Fackell have received most of the snaps on the edge. Bosa leads the Chargers with 4.5 sacks. Fackell has two and Nwosu one.
Murray hasn’t played since Sept. 26, when the Chargers won at Kansas City. Staley said that during Murray’s time off the field the team has been “formulating that thought process, that developmental plan for him so that he can really excel.”
Before trying Murray on the edge, Staley said the coaches wanted to make sure he had a solid understanding of the defense and a strong foundation upon which to add responsibility.
“When you’re playing two different positions, that can be a lot,” Staley said. “You have to do that in a sequence where the player’s ready for that. … Part of the beauty of coaching is figuring it out for your players. Sometimes, it takes some time. … It’s finding that sweet spot.”
Dustin Hopkins hasn’t been with the Chargers long, and he missed an extra point against the Eagles, but he came through with the winning field goal in a 27-24 victory.
As for Murray, Staley said he will be a key piece — no matter where he’s playing — when he does return.
“In this second half of the season, we’re going to need him for us to be the type of defense we’re capable of being. I see all three of those guys being starters for us and being in leading roles,” Staley said of Murray, White and Tranquill.
Staley said cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. remains in concussion protocol, but he rejoined his teammates in practice. Wide receiver Keenan Allen (knee) was held out, as was safety Nasir Adderley (ankle) and running back Justin Jackson (groin). Safety Alohi Gilman (ankle), who missed the game Sunday, is “day to day,” Staley said. He said cornerback Michael Davis (hamstring) continues to progress but “is still probably a week away.” ... Staley confirmed that defensive back Ryan Smith suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Philadelphia, ending his season. “It’s a bummer,” Staley said. “He just fit in so well with us, was playing really well for us.”
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