RICHMOND — The plan was so simple, so certain.
Junior Galette was returning from injury to give the Redskins another proven pass rusher at outside linebacker. Trent Murphy had limited production in that role during his first two years in the NFL. Galette would return from a torn Achilles tendon this season. Murphy, already with a big frame and the capacity to put on more weight, would slide to defensive end and give Washington another option there.
Instead, Galette went down with another torn Achilles before the Redskins even reached training camp in Richmond and suddenly outside linebacker looked thin beyond Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith. And so Murphy, who put on 32 pounds at the team’s request after a rigorous offseason training regimen, is now back at outside linebacker working with the second team.
“Once Junior tore his Achilles, we tried him [Murphy] at defensive end a little bit,” Gruden said on Monday before the 10th practice of camp. “But we feel like at this point in time – we moved him back to linebacker. The good thing about him, he’s got some experience at defensive end.”
Indeed, Murphy was working as a reserve defensive end even as recently as this week. But it became clear in practices later in the week that he was primarily with the outside linebackers again. On July 30 – the third practice of camp – he was already toggling between the two positions.
Murphy showed some improved explosiveness when going against left tackle Trent Williams in drills. But even then he was dropping into coverage as an outside backer. On one play during that July 30 practice he chose not to chase a running back into the flat and instead held his position and baited quarterback Kirk Cousins into an interception that would have gone for a touchdown.
But outside linebacker is Murphy’s role. Again. He will be featured at that position – as he was last year – with Kerrigan and Smith. The last one or two spots there will come down to Houston Bates, Willie Jefferson, Lynden Trail and roster long shots Ejiro Ederaine and Shiro Davis.
At best two of those players will make it and that’s only because Murphy still has the size to kick inside in certain packages. He reached an offseason peak of 290 pounds, entered camp at 285 and, after a bout with strep throat last week, is “right around 270”, according to Gruden. That’s still a good 12 pounds over his playing weight last season.
But the Redskins think Murphy can handle the position as a strong, explosive outside linebacker even if he isn’t great in coverage. Smith, after all, plays at about 268 pounds.
“[Murphy] wasn’t exactly a speedster to begin with, so I think he’ll be fine,” Gruden said. “He can drop into the flat and the curl zone and do some good things, but also provide us with another rusher, whether it’s in three-down fronts with him as a spinner, or four-down fronts with him as an end. Maybe we’ll try to put him inside. He’s doing a good job out here and once we moved him back, he made some big plays and has done well.”
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