Guarded optimism for Murphy moving inside
GREEN BAY – The questions started before Kyle Murphy ever was drafted. Every team, it seemed, wanted to know if he could be something more than an offensive tackle. Could he play guard? Murphy would simply shrug.
He never had been anything but a tackle. It’s the position that got him into the NFL. On the offensive line’s perimeter, Murphy was comfortable. The interior was a mystery.
This offseason, he’s getting an introductory course.
“The way this business is,” Murphy said, “you’ve got to be able to play everything. My biggest thing is, I just want to compete and play on the field. Everyone always talks about tackles, or left tackles being premier. I just want to be out there and help my teammates, help the team really in whichever way.”
Murphy also wants to secure a job on the Packers’ 53-man roster. To do that, he may need to prove capable of playing guard.
The Packers’ offensive line depth chart is an invert of previous seasons. No longer is the strength inside at guard, with tackle vulnerable. Entering this season, the Packers seem set at tackle with David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga providing one of the NFL’s best bookends. Guard, no longer buoyed by Pro Bowlers Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, is less stable.
Jahri Evans, the longtime Pro Bowler in New Orleans, and second-year starter Lane Taylor should be serviceable starters. Behind them, jobs are wide open. Depth is more target than reality in Green Bay, with an interior offensive line loaded with inexperienced, developmental projects.
The Packers under general manager Ted Thompson have a long history of successfully transitioning college tackles to guard, but not everyone is built for it. On paper, the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Murphy wouldn’t seem like an ideal candidate. Among his roster competition is a pair of former college tackles transitioning to guard, but veteran Don Barclay and rookie Kofi Amichia have one natural advantage. Barclay is 6-foot-4 and Amichia 6-foot-3, giving them a head start in the race for leverage.
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Offensive line coach James Campen said he looks for one thing when identifying which college tackles can transition to guard.
“I think when it comes down to that,” Campen said, “can a guy, a bigger person, a taller person, can they bend? If they can sink, and get lower. Low enough (to block) a shorter, stouter guy, the 6-3 or below defensive tackle.”
The time for Murphy to prove he can play guard will come next month when the Packers convene training camp, where the pads are strapped on and contact is live. Until then, he is using the spring to learn the new position. Murphy said reps have been split 70-30 between tackle and guard during the offseason program, maybe 65-45.
With Bryan Bulaga and Jahri Evans among the five-year veterans excused from minicamp, Murphy is getting plenty of exposure at both positions.
It isn’t the first time Murphy has repped at guard. The lifelong tackle first started lining up there last November, when injuries forced the Packers to shuffle pieces along their offensive line. Murphy got just enough reps last season to grasp the basics, nothing more. This offseason, his snaps inside have increased.
Murphy is facing the same obstacles any tackle encounters when they move to guard, an entirely different position. The objective remains the same -- to block the man in front of you -- but the method changes.
At tackle, there is more space to cover, against longer, more athletic pass rushers. The game unravels more quickly at guard. The interior is all about leverage.
“It’s definitely a different mindset you have to approach it with,” Murphy said. “Kind of being in a tighter space, going against bigger guys. Things happen a lot quicker. You’ve got to be a lot more in tune to see where the middle linebackers and all that are doing. Whereas tackle, you have more space to deal with. Granted, it’s a little more cut-and-dried as far as responsibilities, dealing with a D end or an outside linebacker every play.”
Pad level and knee bend, Murphy said, is what he’ll focus on most through training camp. It isn’t easy for a man standing 6-foot-6 to get close to the ground, but it’s necessary. His drills in the chutes to the side of Clarke Hinkle Field have been especially important, teaching him to stay low.
Campen said his second-year lineman is also stronger this year after spending more time in the weight room during his first, full offseason. Added muscle should help while blocking squatty defensive tackles like Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, but a transition this difficult won’t just be physically demanding.
“I think it just comes down to a mindset,” Campen said. “Is a guy mentally tough enough to face the challenges of being a little taller, to go through that process for a couple of weeks where things aren’t going too good in training camp? Then pretty soon it starts clicking for him. Then of course when that happens, hell, it’s better for the ball club, it’s better for the player. You get more flexibility, more utilization. I think it’s just mentally tough, the challenge of moving from any position where you’re comfortable and putting yourself in.
“You really just have to absorb the opportunity and go for it. You have to just throw yourself into the position and just trust.”