"Alright let me just load up Kenneth Murray's profile here to start this article. Okay, one tab has the OU bio page open. Got that. The next has the stats page. Next we'll check out Wikipedia just to see if we get any nuggets on his background. Okay, last one, fire up the news tab and look for some recent stuff.
"Good to go to start the digging on the article. Let's look at the stats first to get a baseline. Oh, wow, he had 155 tackles as a sophomore. That's crazy! An average of double digit tackles per game!? Impressive. Let's look at the game splits--TWNETY EIGHT TACKLES AGAINST ARMY, WHAT IN THE WORLD."
Big time performances are nothing new to Murray. The 4-star prospect from Missouri City, Texas has been doing that since he stepped on campus. As a freshman in 2017, after starting all 14 games for the Sooners, Murray earned Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors in the Big 12, and was voted to the freshman All-American team. As a sophomore, he elevated his production even more. In 2018, while once again starting all 14 games, Murray recorded an insane 155 total tackles with 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Murray's 28 tackles in that Army game were the most of any linebacker in a single game since at least 2000, and his season total tackle count of 155 was the most from any Oklahoma linebacker since 2007.
But there are reasons why it wasn't the most for any Oklahoma linebacker ever. That's because the Sooners' football record book is rich with playmakers, linebackers certainly being some of them.
Going into 2019, Murray made a pact -- a phrase -- to himself to make sure that he was more than just the stats. Oklahoma has had plenty of great backers who have racked up big numbers. Jackie Shipp, Daryl Hunt, George Cumby are all guys who eclipsed Murray's single-season total tackle number during their days. Though those are names to look up to, those aren't the ones on Murray's mind -- his phrase -- to chase.
The names he's focused on are Teddy Lehman, Rocky Calmus and Brian Bosworth.
Those three men brought the four Dick Butkus Awards (the award given annually to the best linebacker in college football) back to the trophy room in Norman.
The Sooners program claimed their first Butkus Award in 1985 with Bosworth, then again in '86 when Bosworth won it back-to-back. After that, Calmus won it in 2001, and Lehman after him in 2003.
With four Butkus trophies in the case, Murray's goal for the rest of college career is simple: Be The 5th.
“It’s multiple things that keep me motivated. I find fuel in everything,” Murray said. “I want to go out there and prove I’m the best. I want to go out and be the fifth Butkus Award winner at Oklahoma. I want to prove that our defense is something that shouldn’t be played with. It’s a lot. A lot of it I can’t really explain, but it keeps me going.”
So far so good for Murray. He opened with season against Houston with an impressive 13 tackles while containing the speedy quarterback D'Eriq King. He hasn't recorded double digit tackles since, but the did record two tackles for loss in big moments in their biggest game so far, the Red River Rivalry against Texas.
Even if the stats aren't as numerous as they were the year before, Murray is better, and he's better in the ways you need to exemplify to be worthy of a Butkus Award.
“Being that emotional, being that leader by example and just going out there and doing what I need to do to lead my defense to be the best," Murray said. "I think that’s the main thing for me."
Murray has realized that it's not just about the plays you make. It's how you help those around you to make the plays they need to make, too. That's what will make Oklahoma a defense capable of reaching the College Football Playoff. That's what will make Murray truly one of the best at his position in the nation.
“It’s not moreso about me," Murray said. "The things that come along with that award—leadership, guys going out there and creating havoc on the field, and definitely being a leader, being somebody that can be depended upon by the whole defense. When things get rough, everybody on the defense looks to that person to bring things back up …”
Throughout the season, Murray has been ending his tweets and other social posts with the hashtag #BeThe5th. He's also written it on his eye black during game days. I wouldn't be surprised if he also had it written on laptop case, on a note on the bathroom mirror and even on his ceiling so it can be the last thing he sees when he puts his head down to sleep.
Murray was good last year, but this year he's on another level -- another path, if you will. Let's take a look at how Murray wins, and what parts of his game could stand out when it comes to end-of-season awards and his outlook as an NFL draft prospect.
Play No. 1: Violence!
When Murray gets you in the open field he can sometimes look like a WWE superstar with how he brings you down. That was a textbook close line off the ropes.
Playing with speed is one thing -- an attribute of his game we will continue to reference throughout these five plays -- but you still have to finish once you get to your destination. Murray enjoys being a finisher on plays. Sometimes it is a little reckless in his approach, but there's no fear of failure here. He knows he's the show stopper.
Play No. 2: Read & React
Before this season, the reason why I had such reservations with Murray wasn't due to a lack of talent. This kid can fly to the ball. It was the anticipation part. I thought he was purely "see ball, get ball" with not enough thought or recognition going into where the play might develop before it happens.
Watch the subtle look to the side by Murray before the ball was snapped. He recognized the formation the Longhorns were in, and was able to anticipate where that ball was going and in what manner it was getting there enough to make the stop before the receiver could even take his first few steps up the field.
This season I am seeing more of that. Even though Murray still needs to work with more advanced anticipation, especially in coverage, plays like the one above are signs that there is improvement being made and the ceiling of play has not been reached.
Play No. 3: First Step ➡️ Pursuit
Murray's first step is special. I must have watched the play above 15 times before I even recorded it to make sure I included it here. There are so many elements of doing your job at a high level in the game of football that have to be present in a prospect, but none of them matter if you're not athlete enough.
Murray is absolutely athlete enough. The way he can take off after putting one foot in the ground is what gives him such a high ceiling for a position that has him changing direction and going sideline-to-sideline. In car terms, his zero to 60 is fast enough to feature in a commercial.
Play No. 4: First Step ➡️ The Pocket
Though pursuit plays are his bread and butter, Murray can use his first step when attack the pocket off the edge, too.
Murray finished last season with 12.5 tackles for loss, and this year he already has another six. He also had 4.5 sacks in 2018 with now 2.5 in 2019. One of them is shown above.
Shoot, I'd take that kind of explosiveness off the snap for any edge player, not to mention a linebacker. Murray is likely to be a player who is kept in a position that allows him to keep his eyes in the backfield, attack the pocket, and spy or play pursuit towards the flats more than he will be asked to drop back into deep zone coverages. Plays like the one above are good reasons why.
Play No. 5: (In) Space, The Final Frontier
Plays in coverage are the areas of Murray's game that hold the keys for just how high he can go in the draft. He can tackle, he can spy, he can pursue and he can pressure the pocket, both off the edge and up the middle. But he still looks hesitant and even a bit stiff in coverage.
When the play above starts becoming plays where Murray can grab a takeaway, then we're talking about a linebacker worth coveting in the Top 50. Right now Murray has zero career interceptions. I know that a counter to that stat would be that they don't ask him to drop back nearly as much as they ask him to attack. But you have to think there's a reason why there, too, in a strength and weakness way.
Murray has gained an increased awareness with anticipating quick plays for tackles. If that can translate that to him looking more natural in coverage, he'll be a damn good prospect in whatever draft cycle he decides to put his name in.