GREEN BAY – Kyle Murphy spent most Sundays during his rookie season in sweats on the sideline, watching his fellow offensive linemen set the table for Aaron Rodgers’ sixth season with more than 4,000 passing yards.
A sixth-round pick out of Stanford, Murphy stepped on the field for only three of the 19 contests the Packers played in 2016 (including playoffs), but good luck telling him that.
Despite usually being a healthy scratch on game days, Murphy was still locked on his iPad the night before every game – studying the playbook and reviewing the game plan in the unlikely case he was called upon.
“He was a guy who was writing notes down, watching film and making sure he was ready to go,” said Packers linebacker Blake Martinez, Murphy’s college teammate and his roommate last season. “Obviously last year he wasn’t really needed most of the time, but I think those habits he formed helped him a ton this year having to step in so rapidly.”
A full calendar year of preparation culminated in Murphy making his first NFL start Sunday against Seattle, playing all 82 offensive snaps in the Packers’ 17-9 win over the Seahawks.
Murphy was given a day’s notice he’d be making a spot start in place of Bryan Bulaga, who practiced in a limited capacity but was still ruled out by team doctors with the ankle injury he sustained in practice Aug. 23.
The task wasn’t easy with the Packers facing a Seattle defensive front known for its speed, athleticism, and a never-ending barrage of twists and stunts designed to challenge the communication of even the most veteran lines.
For as much experience as the Packers have on what’s largely been a homegrown offensive line, it just so happened veteran Jahri Evans was making his first start at right guard for Green Bay after playing 11 previous seasons in New Orleans.
Murphy understood that reality was going to put a target on his back, but after shaking off a little “pre-game excitement,” the 6-foot-6, 305-pound right tackle settled in and grew more confident as the game progressed.
By the second half, the offensive line cut down on the negative plays and consistently provided Rodgers with the proper timing to steadily chip away at Seattle’s coverage units.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge going forward and they were going to look at me,” Murphy said. “I knew Jahri was new to the scheme, so they were going to test us a good amount as far as what they were going to throw at us. I think I handled it pretty well and the guys around me did a heck of a job as far as helping me out and making sure I was doing what I had to do.”
Martinez and Murphy have a ritual of talking before every game they’ve played together. The conversation is usually filled with jokes and light jabs to lighten the mood.
After Murphy helped Martinez exorcise any pre-game jitters before his first start last year, Martinez was there to remind Murphy the game hasn’t changed – it’s the same one he’s been playing since the beginning.
“Hey, it’s football,” Martinez told him. “We’ve been playing this forever. Now just go out there and do what we do.”
Murphy spent Monday reviewing the film with position coach James Campen. While there are plays he’d like to have back, his overall performance gave his teammates confidence in his ability to spell Bulaga, the longest-tenured member of Green Bay’s offensive line.
Evans, a six-time Pro Bowler, came away impressed with what he saw from Murphy, who played all of eight offensive snaps in jumbo formations during his rookie season.
The biggest test was getting a feel for how the other guy plays. While it was unfortunate Bulaga was unable to go, Evans, Murphy and center Corey Linsley had 2½ weeks to start building that chemistry on the right side of the offensive line.
“We just had to make sure communication was up to par because Bryan has been helping me out a lot with that, but Murph did a good job,” Evans said. “Corey did a good job also, making sure we were all on the same page because we knew we’d probably get some things, being game one, we didn’t prepare for or see on film. All in all, we came out with the W.”
The Packers again will take the week to determine Bulaga’s availability for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, but Murphy’s approach won’t change.
Like last year, he’ll be ready regardless of the circumstances
“It’s just football really when it comes down to it,” Murphy said. “It wasn’t my first game ever playing, so it was nice to fall back on last year and be like, ‘OK, I’ve been in an NFL game before.’ Obviously, not in this exact circumstance, but I just tried to trust my fundamentals and trust the guys next to me and thankful the coaches had enough trust in me, as well.”