Chargers LB Kenneth Murray returns to starting role after brief benching – Press Enterprise
COSTA MESA — Chargers rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray made an immediate impact in his first training camp workout in August.
He displayed sideline-to-sideline speed with a nose for the ball during his memorable summer debut. Teammates described him as a beast with tree trunks for legs.
Murray likely won the starting middle linebacker job because of that first impression. The Chargers told Murray to rest for about a week after experiencing leg soreness on his second day of training camp.
Murray returned as the starter and hadn’t looked back until late in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Murray was benched briefly because of communication issues, as the Raiders punished the Chargers’ rushing defense.
Denzel Perryman, who lost his starting job to Murray, took over as the middle linebacker and called plays for the defense for most of the second half.
“We put a lot on his plate and there’s a part in the game where we just didn’t communicate,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said about pulling Murray. “A lot of us can probably take action on it; look at ourselves. But I think at that point in time there was just some confusion, so when we talked to (Murray) on the sideline, we took him off. Let him settle down a little bit. We got Denzel in there and it calmed it down.
“Now, Murray went back in and played, but I think there was a portion of time (where) we just needed a little bit more time to talk to him. See where he was at with things. He settled down.”
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and Bradley said Murray will be the starting middle linebacker this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, but the first-round draft pick might not have as many responsibilities.
The Chargers (2-6) are assessing whether they gave Murray too much too fast. He has the skill set to play middle linebacker, but calling a defense and learning coverages takes time and experience.
“There’s nothing like game reps,” Chargers veteran safety Rayshawn Jenkins said Thursday. “Guys have to step up like me, and just basically try to get these young guys to settle in and play fast.”
Perhaps Murray hasn’t been able to play fast because he’s focused on communicating with teammates and learning to read offenses. The game-wrecking speed that Murray displayed at Oklahoma and during training camp hasn’t appeared on Sundays. Perhaps Murray’s aggressive style is better suited as an outside linebacker, but the Chargers rarely blitz in Bradley’s scheme.
Murray held his own in his first eight starts, but he lacked impact plays. Murray didn’t have any sacks, quarterback hits or forced turnovers and only had one tackle for loss.
“He’s been pretty good now,” Bradley said. “He’s a competitor. He wants to be on the field, and he’s a very, very prideful man.
“Here’s a guy who hasn’t gone through (organized team activities), some training camp, and we put a lot on his plate and he wants a lot on his plate, so he’s been great thus far in practice.”
Bradley compared Murray to the team’s 2019 first-round selection, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, who struggled in his rookie season and was unable to create a push in the interior of the defense.
Now, Tillery has been one of the Chargers’ top playmakers this season by creating pressure and causing turnovers. Bradley credited that to Tillery having a full offseason program after not having one before his rookie year because of a shoulder injury.
But the Chargers can’t afford to wait on Murray to make plays. The defense has allowed an average of 31.8 points per game in the past five games.
Lynn said the defense has gone through growing pains with inexperienced players such as Murray, free safety Nasir Adderley and slot cornerback Tevaughn Campbell.
“We have some young players on the field in key situations and we’re going through some of those growing pains for sure,” Lynn said, “but it’s not because of the talent.”
The Chargers aren’t experiencing buyer’s remorse on Murray, who was selected No. 23 overall after the Chargers traded second- and third-round picks to the New England Patriots.
“We anticipate him playing at a high level for us,” Bradley said.
TURNER A FULL PARTICIPANT
Right guard Trai Turner had a full practice Thursday for the first time since Week 3 when he surprisingly showed up on the final injury report with a groin injury.
Turner missed the past six games because of the groin injury and has only played one game during his first season with the Chargers. The Chargers acquired the five-time Pro Bowl guard from the Carolina Panthers in a trade for left tackle Russell Okung.
Defensive end Joey Bosa, who is in the concussion protocol, was a limited participant for the second consecutive day along with right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back).
Running back Justin Jackson (knee) missed a second consecutive practice.