GREEN BAY – No sooner had Head Coach Mike McCarthy tossed some praise Kyle Murphy’s way than the second-year offensive lineman’s practice duty unexpectedly ramped up.
Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga limped off Ray Nitschke Field on Wednesday with an ankle injury during 9-on-7 work, elevating Murphy to the No. 1 line for the rest of the workout.
Before practice, McCarthy said Murphy was having “a heckuva camp,” coming off a solid performance in the second preseason game at Washington last Saturday. Now this weekend, he may have quite the spotlight on him.
Nothing has been announced regarding Bulaga’s ankle. But given the Packers’ conservative nature with injuries, particularly during the preseason, there’s a reasonable chance Murphy will be starting at right tackle in Denver on Saturday night, when Green Bay’s top units are expected to get their most extensive in-game work.
Murphy promises to be ready. It’s the nature of the job.
“Being a backup, you might not play for three games or you might be up next play, so I’ll be ready to go,” Murphy said after practice. “Everyone in the offensive line room has that mentality of always being prepared to start, being prepared to play an entire game, go against whatever pass rusher or defensive lineman or stunts they’re going to bring at us.
“Whatever happens, happens. I’m sure (Bulaga) will be all right, but I’m ready for whatever.”
Fellow lineman and 2016 draft pick Jason Spriggs rotated in at right tackle with the No. 1 line as well, but Murphy took the first set of reps there each 11-on-11 period and would appear to be first in line behind Bulaga.
Spriggs has spent the majority of camp working at left tackle. He admitted it always feels “different” to flip sides, but he got used to it in practice after the first few snaps, so he could fill in at right tackle, too.
Spriggs is looking for a bounce-back game after some rough moments thus far in the preseason. McCarthy, as well as starting left tackle David Bakhtiari, expressed confidence that Spriggs would recover just fine, and now he might have the added challenge of more than one position to play.
Murphy has dealt with that as well, taking some reps at the guard spots and at left tackle in an effort to make the roster as a versatile reserve. But the vast majority of his work has come at right tackle, where he’s most comfortable.
Just about everything has gone better in Year 2 for Murphy after coming to Green Bay as a sixth-round pick from Stanford last year. Stanford’s school schedule forced Murphy to miss all of OTAs in the spring, so he was catching up in camp and he spent the majority of his rookie season as a game-day inactive. He appeared in three games on special teams.
This past spring, the 6-foot-6 Murphy said kept his weight in the 305-pound range but got stronger and quicker. He had a far better grasp of the playbook in OTAs this time around, and he’s focused considerably on his pass protection.
“He’s definitely absorbing, seeing, not only listening to what we have to say, but also watching Bryan and I, how we operate,” Bakhtiari said. “The next thing, and I talked to him today, is the progression. He’s learning certain things and adapting. Now it’s building on top of that, adding to your repertoire, adding to your tools.”
Coming from a run-heavy offense at Stanford, Murphy said he felt good about his run-blocking from the get-go, and he can tell he’s made progress in pass protection this spring and summer.
“I think I’ve been a lot better at being explosive out of my stance in pass protection,” he said. “I’ve been trying to hone in on the speed rushes, getting back fast, sinking my hips.”
Murphy felt last week’s game in Washington was the best he’s played in a Green Bay uniform in his limited opportunities. Bulaga’s exit from practice on Wednesday increased his workload in team drills, and he took it all in stride.
“No matter how tired you are, how sore you are, you have to get ready to push through those hard days when your legs are a little bit heavy,” he said. “That’s what football is.
“It’s all good. You have to embrace it. It’s kind of the life of an offensive lineman.”
So is being ready to step in at a moment’s notice. If he does indeed start at right tackle in Denver, he’ll know sooner than the last minute, but either way, his plan is to keep it simple.
“Just get my assignment done every play,” he said of his goals for the next game. “As far as the approach or mentality, you don’t get any more jittery. You put your hard hat on and come to work and do what you have to do.”