Kyler Murray expected to start for Cardinals vs. Falcons after torn ACL

Eleven months after suffering a torn ACL, Kyler Murray is set to start again for the Cardinals provided his upcoming week of practice “goes well,” Arizona Coach Jonathan Gannon told reporters Monday.

The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who injured his right knee in December of last year, started this season on the physically unable to perform list. He was designated to return on Oct. 18, which by league rules meant the Cardinals had 21 days to place Murray on their active roster, giving them a deadline of Wednesday.

“Pleased where he is at right now,” Gannon said Monday at a news conference. “We’ll see how the week goes.”

Murray has been practicing in full for the past two weeks, but he has been spending much of his time working with backups as Arizona readied Josh Dobbs (since traded to the Minnesota Vikings) and rookie Clayton Tune. In his first NFL start last week, Tune appeared overwhelmed against the Cleveland Browns’ top-ranked defense and led the Cardinals to an NFL season-low 58 total yards. The 27-0 loss dropped Arizona’s record to 1-8.

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Gannon said Monday that Murray would spend the week practicing with the first team, and assuming the quarterback gets the start Sunday, it will come at home against the Atlanta Falcons. As fate would have it, Atlanta is coming off a 31-28 loss to the Vikings in which Dobbs came off the bench on short notice and submitted a stunningly effective performance for Minnesota.

Murray, 26, hasn’t taken a competitive snap since three plays into a Monday night matchup with the New England Patriots on Dec. 12, 2022. Although the Cardinals have seen several other prominent players suffer injuries thus far this season, Gannon said that would not factor into the decision on whether to put Murray under center.

“If he’s out on the field, we feel good about him being healthy enough to play,” said the first-year coach. “Every team in the NFL is banged up, and we’ll put our best foot forward and get the right pieces in there and give ourselves a chance to win a game.”

Last summer, Murray signed a five-year contract extension worth $230.5 million, including $160 million in guaranteed money. By apparently committing to putting him back on the field this season, the Cardinals are taking on a risk of injury that could lock them into massive payouts to Murray over the next three years.

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Whenever Murray does suit up this season, it remains to be seen how much he uses his legs, at least initially, in the wake of his injury. The Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, selected first overall in the 2019 draft, became one of just five quarterbacks to run for at least 400 yards in each of his first four NFL seasons (per the team).

“We’ve got to be willing to understand that it might not look like Kyler,” said Gannon. “And I think he’s got a good expectation of that. The coaches have a good expectation of that, but I know this: He’s going to come out there and play his game, and help us win.”

Even if Murray prefers to limit his scrambling, his arm talent should provide Arizona’s passing attack with a major upgrade. His career numbers include 242.9 passing yards per game, a 66.8 completion percentage, a 4.3 touchdown percentage and a 92.5 passer rating. By comparison, over his eight starts this season, Dobbs averaged 196.1 yards per game on 62.8 percent passing, with a 3.0 touchdown percentage and an 81.2 passer rating.

Tune was little short of a disaster in Cleveland, but Gannon said Monday that he and his staff “didn’t do enough with the other guys in uniform to give us a chance to win the game, so it doesn’t solely lie with Clayton.” Describing the rough outing as “a valuable learning experience” for the rookie quarterback, Gannon said Tune would get another start this week if Murray is deemed not quite ready.

Gannon said that Murray was “excited to get back in the huddle and assume a little bit of that leadership role.”

“It’s fun to be around him at practice,” the coach added. “He’s ultracompetitive and wants to play football, and everything that he’s been doing up until this point to get himself ready to go, both on and off the field — rehab, with the health stuff, with the mental stuff about playing quarterback — he’s far exceeded my expectations right now.”

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