Packers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell on Cardinals QB Kyler Murray: 'He's a winner at heart'
GREEN BAY - When Kyler Murray burst onto the NFL scene last season, it was no surprise to Green Bay Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.
A year ago, Campbell had a front-row seat to Murray’s breakout, Pro Bowl year. Campbell started all 16 games for the Arizona Cardinals' defense in 2020. While Murray’s talent as the former No. 1 overall draft pick in 2019 is apparent – Campbell said his former teammate is a “really gifted football player” – it’s the quarterback’s pedigree that sets him apart.
“Extremely, extremely competitive,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to realize you’re dealing with a guy who’s not really used to losing, dating all the way back to high school. I think he never lost a game in high school, may have lost a couple games during his time at Oklahoma. So you’re just dealing with a winner. He’s a winner at heart. You can see it in the way he plays.”
Murray famously went 43-0 as Allen High’s quarterback, leading his prep team to three straight Texas state championships. After transferring from Texas A&M, Murray led Oklahoma to a 12-2 record and won the Heisman Trophy in 2018.
It’s no surprise then the Cardinals are the NFL’s hottest team in Murray’s third season. After going 5-10-1 in Murray’s rookie season, and seeing an uptick to 8-8 last season, the Cardinals are the league’s last remaining unbeaten team at 7-0.
Murray has been at the forefront of the Cardinals’ ascension into contention.
“With a player like that,” Campbell said, “you can’t stop him. You have to just contain him and try to force him to make mistakes. I think that’s going to be a big part of the game, is just really trying to make him uncomfortable. He can make every throw on the field, he can scramble, and that’s going to be a huge part of the game, is just not allowing him to extend plays and letting his wide receivers get open.”
Murray has established himself in the NFL’s quarterback hierarchy in such a short time, it’s remarkable to think he almost didn’t choose this route. The Oakland Athletics drafted Murray ninth overall in 2018, giving him an option at pursuing a professional baseball career.
Cramming for Thursday night kickoff
Adrian Amos, a Penn State alum, watched Sunday’s nine-overtime game between the Nittany Lions and Illinois.
The Packers safety doesn’t envision ever playing an NFL game with that many overtimes. He can, however, think of something even worse.
“It’s almost as bad,” Amos said, “as playing a Thursday night (game) across the country.”
The Packers have reason to question the sanity of NFL schedule makers this week. Any Thursday night game on the road is difficult, but losing two hours of time-zone travel with only three days between a game increases the challenge several notches.
Coach Matt LaFleur stepped to the podium Tuesday and, without a question being asked, wondered aloud: “Anybody know what day it is?”
Tuesday felt more like two days, LaFleur said. There’s good reason for that. The Packers split the day before their flight leaves Green Bay into two walk-throughs. The first featured typical Wednesday practice elements, while the second featured typical Thursday elements.
The Packers will have a “split practice slash walk-through” Wednesday morning, LaFleur said. Their flight for Arizona will take off around 1:30 p.m. The team will have nighttime meetings upon arrival, then typical game-day preparations Thursday.
Amos said the players are keeping good spirits about the monumental task ahead.
“Leading up to it, you’ve got to have a positive mindset about the short week and everything. I think it is kind of hard during the NFL season. You’ve already got 17 games, physical games, and then you’ve got basically three or four days in recovery, and then you go across the country to go play a game. So regardless, you’ve got to have a positive mindset, you’ve got to get after it.”
Jerry Gray to be calling plays
When LaFleur hired Jerry Gray as his defensive backs coach before last season, Gray's history as a past NFL defensive coordinator had to be part of the appeal.
It’s no surprise then that LaFleur has chosen Gray to call defensive plays Thursday night at Arizona, filling in for first-year coordinator Joe Barry. The expectation is Barry will miss Thursday’s game after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.
Gray has been a defensive coordinator twice in his career. He led the Buffalo Bills' defense from 2001 to 2005. A decade later, he was the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator from 2011-13.
LaFleur stressed it will require everyone on the defensive staff to fill in for Barry’s absence Thursday. For example, LaFleur said, inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will communicate Gray’s play calls to Campbell, who wears the communication helmet. Campbell will then relay the calls to his teammates.
“Certainly, it’s still going to be a collective effort from all the guys,” LaFleur said. “We have a lot of confidence in our defensive staff, and KO will communicate the call to Dre out on the field. And that’s how we’ll roll.”
Lowry rushing passer more creatively
If Dean Lowry has a sack Thursday night, he’ll tie his career high for sacks and quarterback hits in a season, and will have only needed eight games to get there.
Lowry has two sacks and four quarterback hits in the first seven games this season. It might not seem like robust production, but it’s a significant uptick for Lowry. The veteran defensive end, long known more as a run defender, had no sacks throughout the entire 2019 season.
Even when Lowry rebounded with three sacks last fall, Lowry had no sacks in the season’s first two months.
The Packers have needed more pass-rush production around Kenny Clark on their defensive line. Lowry said he’s found ways to get to the quarterback in 2021.
“I’ve always been more of a physical pass rusher,” Lowry said, “but this year I’ve really mixed it up well with more stunts and more speed moves to keep the O linemen guessing. So just really mixing that up and having a better combination, and then when I do go more speed to power, having a better pad level, getting off the ball better, and just having better confidence right now I think has been key to getting home more of late.”