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Following the Seattle Seahawks’ 2nd round, pick #47 selection of Marquise Blair, John Schneider was asked what he liked about the former Utah safety. The Seahawks General Manager got right to it, enthusing: “Physical. Great athlete. He ran fast. True competitor.” In his 10th draft, Schneider traded back from early 2nd to mid-2nd, gaining another pick. Yet he still managed to get a Seattle player.

Jim Nagy was an NFL scout for 18 years and was most recently with Seattle, where he served for five seasons as the Southeast Area evaluator. Now the Reese’s Senior Bowl director, it was obvious to Nagy that Blair fit the Seahawk prototype:

“Coming from Seattle. That guy’s a Seahawk safety right there,” disclosed Nagy at the 2019 Senior Bowl opening presser.

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Matty F. Brown
Jim Nagy made lots of comments relating to the Seahawks in his presser. THREAD.

He spoke on the importance of a prospect overcoming challenges:

“That’s one thing we really hammered in Seattle. Finding the guys that had been through adversity. Because it’s not going to be easy.”

8:30 AM – Jan 22, 2019
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Nagy was right. Blair was projected by many analysts as a Day Three pick, but Seattle’s Front Office and Head Coach Pete Carroll clearly fell in love with the traits and athleticism of the player. Here’s how Blair tested:

Height: 6ft 1
Weight: 195lbs
Arm length: 31”
40-yard-dash: 4.48 seconds
Vertical jump: 35”
Broad jump: 125”
Short shuttle: 4.49 seconds (pro day)
3 cone: 6.84 seconds (pro day)
There are rough, jagged elements to Blair’s skillset. But Carroll clearly trusts his coaching to polish Blair into an NFL gem. Let’s get to the tape and study the game of Seattle’s 2nd overall player.

A silent assassin
Seattle’s defense looked slow last season. They needed to get faster and nastier, at safety and up front. Blair helps that. His trademark trait is keying rapidly and then hitting like a bullet train. A downhill flyer with aggression and speed is getting increasingly difficult to find in college football. Schneider described Blair as a “really intense tempo setter” and “a tough, tough dude.” Meanwhile, Carroll disclosed that “it’s [Blair’s] toughness that we really are excited about.”
In his rookie mini-camp presser, Blair told reporters that his mentality comes from playing “backyard football.” His play-style inspiration was YouTube highlights of any big contact:

“When I was little I just watched highlights a lot, just hard-hitting highlights. Just anybody.”

It shows.

Clip 1: Blair did bite somewhat on the play-action, but his energetic hustle to get out to the wide receiver screen and punish the receiver was exciting.

Clip 2: This is excellent trigger speed from Blair running the alley, where he kept near hip pursuit and cleaned the running back out.

Clip 3: The downhill hunger from Blair extends to deep safety. Here he surges from single-high and joins the pile.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
Blair’s calling card is his downhill aggression and speed. His trademark trait is keying rapidly and hitting like a bullet train. It’s what stood out to John Schneider and Pete Carroll. The defensive front needed to get faster and nastier. Blair is

12:47 AM – May 7, 2019
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Blair will add twitchy venom. That’s what clearly stood out most to John Schneider and Pete Carroll. “He’s really violent, really aggressive,” Schneider summarized. He added “He’s really quiet. Like a silent assassin. This guy’s like…he’s scary tough.”

Live by the sword…
Die by the sword. (Or a weapon that assassins use, IDK) Players who play football ferociously are more susceptible to tackling misses, dangerous plays and ejections; Blair was ejected from two college games in 2018. The NFL lacks the stringent, sometimes harsh targeting rules of college football. Blair’s tape had aiming point plus footwork issues and Blair can refine his tackling technique.

Clip 1: Blair was eager to beat the OL block after quickly keying the screen play. He thundered downhill with speed. However, once getting to his spot, he needed to close on the ball-carrier with his feet. It was a solid juke from the ball-carrier and a tricky play for Blair to make, but some extra, smaller steps and greater control would have helped avoid the missing lunge.

Clip 2: The running back cut inside, sending Blair to the floor because his feet weren’t controlled.

Clip 3: This is reminiscent of a Tedric Thompson open-field miss. Coming downhill from deep safety in the cavernous open-field is hard. Yet Blair’s miss was preventable. He goes to dive at the ankles of the receiver, again from far away. Getting slightly closer with less of a lunge, then aiming his eyes higher, through the thighs, would have led to a higher chance of success.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
Like most ferocious players, Blair’s got plays against ballcarriers

Lack of breaking down and controlled footwork=lunging misses

Low aiming=dangerous dipped head+misses

High aiming+bending at the back not sinking at the knees=dangerous+2

12:52 AM – May 7, 2019
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Fortunately for Blair, Seattle has produced excellent instructional videos for coaches, in correspondence with USA Football, on how to teach players to tackle. There is an emphasis on near-foot, near-shoulder contact, with players “swooping” into the tackle with control.
The Seahawks are one of the best franchises to go to if a player wants to sharpen their tackling. Misses from Blair may decrease, but the dangerous plays aspect is likely to be tougher. The issue will be getting Blair to sink more at the knees and bend less at the back.

When asked about his ejections, Blair said “I just gotta lower my target.” That’s fine, but to do that the defender must be able to see what he is hitting. Blair, by bending at the back, reduces his vision of his target and the head will naturally dip more. Whether a slightly different hitting position can be learnt at this stage is highly unlikely, so Seattle may have to live with it.

Ultimately, when Blair does fully break down he is a very reliable tackler. It’s just channelling his want to blow defenders into smithereens. The theme of the Seahawks trusting their ability to develop certainly extends to Blair’s tackling. Said Carroll “It’s just hitting people. He needs to do it right…I think we can focus that.” Schneider answered questions of ill-discipline with “We’re cool with it.”

Sashimi-raw at single-high
I like sushi, especially the accompanying sashimi. I don’t like Blair at single-high safety. Judging by the post draft comments of Head Coach and General Manager, the Seahawks don’t seem to either. They certainly prefer him down near the line of scrimmage as a strong safety. “We’re gonna zero him in, make it focused for him as he starts out at strong safety,” disclosed Carroll.

Blair beginning as a box defender therefore makes sense. He has a worrying tendency to to open his hips early from his backpedal at deep safety, guessing on which way to flip rather than reading a quarterback’s intentions or the route concept.

Worse was Blair’s inability to defend multiple vertical routes from deep—a crucial trait for a free safety in a cover 3 system. A four verts concept is the standard beater! Too often, Blair read the concept wrong and left routes open in behind him. This abysmal ranking of threats made him a liability all too often.

Clip 1: Blair in his 1/3 had to recognize the offensive concept and the defensive coverage. At first, he should have gained depth in his zone and tried to dissect the two vertical routes from the #2 and #3 receivers. However, after the #2 receiver cleared the hook-curl defender, Blair needed to be closer to that route. Poor eye discipline drew him fully towards the #3 receiver’s route, which was already covered well by Cody Barton (matching Final 3 Crosser).

Clip 2: This is a similar situation, with Blair being drawn to the #3 receiver. He has a tendency from deep to open early and gamble on what he sees first. That’s a terrible trait to have, and one offenses will exploit with baiting routes. Blair gets away with his poor coverage as the wide open #2 receiver drops a sure touchdown.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
Blair primarily being a strong safety in Seattle’s defense is a smart decision. He’s sushi-raw at single-high safety, lacking the instincts, awareness and eye discipline to cover a deep middle 1/3 effectively. Free safety would be a

12:54 AM – May 7, 2019
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Smaller areas…
In smaller areas, though, Blair is much more comfortable. Last year, Seattle’s defense evolved into playing more match quarters and cover 1 with the initial match-ups disguised. This was particularly true against 11 personnel, shotgun spread teams like Kansas City.

Clip 1: An unusual play from the defense, but Blair seamlessly picked up the uncovered man on the play-action pass.

Clip 2: When his initial pre-snap intention is matched by the post-snap process of the quarterback, Blair has quality range. This play was from single-high and he almost gets to the ball thrown from the boundary to the field. That’s a lot of space to cover, sideline-to-sideline, even if the rest of his tape suggests he has a history of guessing and playing overly instinctual on the back-end.

Shrunk down to a deep half, Blair could excel. On the brief occasions he executed that assignment for Utah, he looked comfortable. Furthermore, Utah deployed their half safeties in role that kept them close to the hashmarks—which would ease the transition to a quarters-role.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
You must be able to cover verticals from deep safety, especially in a cover 3 where four verts is the go-to beater of offenses–even on Madden!

Focusing on his initial, pre-snap read, Blair flashed range and awareness. He’s better suited to smaller

12:57 AM – May 7, 2019
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Clip 1: Blair “pitches his tent” well and maintains sound leverage.

Clip 2: This is another rep that provides us with a glimpse of what Blair could do in Seattle’s scheme. On the boundary cornerback blitz, Blair is tasked with covering the isolated receiver one-on-one. The way he reads the receiver’s hip, stays in phase and maintains the initial inside leverage is impressive. It’s a trait that suggests a fluent translation to the Seahawks’ man coverage.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
Carroll’s D evolved last year; more match quarters and cover 1 with the match-ups disguised pre-snap. With Earl gone, you can expect this trend to continue.

Blair showed leverage comprehension+reading of the hip that translates to downfield matching/

1:00 AM – May 7, 2019
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However, Blair’s man coverage is still largely an unknown. Perhaps tellingly, Utah frequently kept him out of man coverage scenarios even when they had the opportunity. Pete Carroll’s coaching and the step-kick press technique would put Blair’s solid length (31” arms) to use. It was revealing that Carroll mentioned the slot unprompted when first talking about Blair: “We’d like to start him at safety and inside.”

When asked if he could do nickel stuff, Carroll reiterated Blair’s man coverage potential: “There’ll be opportunities for some special stuff. For him to match-up.” “Special stuff” might well mean big nickel, with starter reps potential hard to come by in his rookie year. But it will likely extend to the “bandit back” role of the Big Dime defense the Seahawks enjoyed success with last year on passing downs.

Blair’s change of direction skills did look leggy, with a lack of flexibility affecting his ability to sink into cuts. He has a solid speed turn but flipping the hips and sinking at cut points took him some time. The 4.49 second short shuttle of his pro day matches this but the 6.84 second 3 cone disagrees. Regardless, like every Seattle safety since the days of Thomas and Chancellor, Blair is likely restricted to matching up with tight ends only.

Despite Carroll saying he wants to zero Blair in at strong safety first, Blair’s rookie day comments reiterated the underrated, required versatility of a Seahawks safety. When asked how similar his usage was to Utah, Blair answered: “It’s kinda the same thing. We go to strong safety, free safety.” This certainly suggests more interchangeability, though that has always been an underestimated aspect to Seattle’s defense. The safeties rotate more than one would think, especially against motion. The “uh-oh” aspect of Blair at deep middle then emerges.

Underneath coverage
Playing more regularly as the down safety, Blair will most often be deployed as a “buzz defender.” That is what Seattle calls their hook-curl, buzz-to-flat coverage guys, and they often have two of them on each play—3 deep, 4 under. the pass, the hook-curl is Blair’s best assignment. He gets rapid depth shuffling to his zone landmarks thanks to nice footspeed. But it’s the cerebral part of his coverage that most impresses.

Clip 1: This was superb hook curl spacing from Blair. He first took away the out route for the quarterback. He then moved backwards to take away the Y-Cross 95 concept of Washington State.

Clip 2: Again: Blair executed splendidly. This clip shows him dropping into a hook curl over trips. His scanning towards the #2 receiver was crucial to his successful coverage. It took away the corner route and the primary read of the quarterback. This is a coaching tape combination of instincts, smarts and awareness.

Clip 3: Blair acted as an excellent underneath layer of coverage beneath the #3 receiver’s vert. The quarterback noticed that it was a Middle of the Field Open defense from Utah and tried to squeeze the ball down the middle of the field. But Blair’s tight merging made the throw near-impossible.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
Blair as the down safety in Seattle’s D will get a TON of hook-curl, zone coverage assignments. This was Blair’s best coverage deployment at Utah. His zone spacing and scanning was splendid, getting to landmarks quick followed by superb melting/

1:03 AM – May 7, 2019
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Clip 1: Blair stayed disciplined in the red-zone sticks defense. He didn’t overcommit on either route and acted as the perfect coverage layer

Clip 2: Blair almost went for the shallow route outside, but he stayed put underneath and then ran well with #1’s post, forcing the throwaway.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
Blair also took away concepts in the tighter confines of the redzone too. With underneath zone and matching. He rides underneath routes well and dissects defenders. That matches Seattle’s match quarters and “buzz” assignment for the Cover 3

1:06 AM – May 7, 2019
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The Seahawks are big on “indicators” for their zone defense, both pre- and post-snap. It’s all about making the zone less spot-drop, more zone-match. Seattle talks about indicators with their coverage, adapting their zones to beat multiple concepts. Pre-snap, one of the indicators is formation. The tight receiver split on the backside. Post-snap, the shallow route must be indicator.

Mike Leach loves mesh, or “92.” It’s the staple Air Raid passing concept along with Y Cross (95). The scouting report ahead of the Washington State game would have been full of it. And still Blair bit on the cheese of the first shallow route (a big Seattle “no-no”). He didn’t recognize the concept. He took the bait. Pretty much every NFL starting overhang defender can play a “hook curl” zone well. What makes for excellent hook-curl play is concept recognition.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
The Seahawks are big on “indicators” for their zone defense, both pre- and post-snap=Zone shells less spot-drop, more zone-match.

Blair fails to recognize the Mesh 92 concept of Wazzu. Utah must have heavily gameplanned for this. It’s an Air Raid staple!

1:09 AM – May 7, 2019
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Defending the run
Playing cover 3 involves the strong safety in the box a fair bit. The position is required to set the EDGE as the FORCE defender or line up near the tackle as a TAN player, a player who looks to turn the ball back to a run-through inside linebacker or searches for the next available gap.

These roles require the ability to take blocks on from fullbacks and offensive linemen and set the EDGE. I’m not talking to the level of Kam Chancellor, bench pressing right tackles. But a degree of physicality is required that Blair lacks right now.

Sure, he brutally smacks when surging downhill at receivers and running backs. But Blair struggled to take blocks on with less of a run up when involved in the box fit. Instead, he relied on his agility and accelerated to dip inside blockers for the tackle.

Clip 1: Facing NFL competition in Andre Dillard exposed just how weak Blair was in the box. His assignment tasked him with reading off the 4i (inside shoulder of the tackle) defensive end in front of him. Blair had no plan for stacking and shedding Dillard. The result was him getting stuck to the block of Dillard and he kept going backwards and backwards, before eventually spinning further back to try and disengage. By this point, the play was over.

Clip 2: Blair was fitting the b-gap from the box on this cut-up. He was quick, but he didn’t use his hands to squeeze the block and hold his gap. Instead, he surged through and made the guard’s job so easy. Blair ended up getting pushed out of the play, well past the running back and opening his gap up again.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
In those plays, Blair either avoids contact due to the OL downblocking and the QB reading him, or by being too quick for OL.

When hit by OL, issues occur. He tries to outspeed and dip through contact. Needs better UOH, gets bullied. 195lb box an issue?

1:16 AM – May 7, 2019
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There are some serious positives to Blair’s box play. Toughness is of course the main one. But there’s plenty more, hence why the Seahawks want to maximize his reps near the LOS. Consider Carroll’s observations: “We really like him attacking the line of scrimmage. He blitzes well. Tackles well. Hits well. Great feel.” “Great feel” features in all these clips. Blair doesn’t just run fast, he also processes quickly.

Clip 1: Blair was reading the 4i defensive end and fitting either outside or inside depending on where the run went. He maintained his depth, giving him the runway to duck inside the outside block from the tackle to make the tackle for loss.

Clip 2: Blair’s quick processing and removal of threats, first honoring the primary concern of the jet sweep with depth and then quickly registering the quarterback keeper was beautiful on this play. He scraped for the tackle.

Clip 3: Blair ducked inside the lead block of the jet sweep after quickly identifying the play type. (Bending at the back is somewhat disturbing, he really needs to sink more, but that’s an issue mentioned earlier.)

Clip 4: This was excellent from Blair, with him reading the downblocking offensive line. He stayed home to play the quarterback keeper, forcing the ‘give’ read. After seeing the ball handed off, Blair then scraped around the pile and made the tackle for loss.

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Matty F. Brown
Replying to @mattyfbrown @FieldGulls
Being put at SS will require Blair to be in the run fit of Seattle’s cover 3 (3 deep, 4 under). Like the plan in Seattle, Blair was often the wide fit. He was very quick at processing the run type+fitting his gap. Plus Blair was an excellent

1:12 AM – May 7, 2019
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Blair’s blitzing ability deserves a mention. It’s sudden and disguised, full of the violence and hunger that accompanies Blair’s downhill pursuit. It earned a mention from Carroll and there will be a separate Seahawks on tape covering Seattle’s pressure options later in the offseason.

The key to an effective evaluation is the much harped on mantra of “focus on what a player can do.” Blair’s skillset, as outlined above, fits a Cover 3 strong safety very well. Except there’s one nagging thought that pierces the “what he can do”; his ability to take blockers on in the box. Blair’s so keen to try run around or inside blocks that his ability to set the EDGE or be the turnback player in the fit can be questioned. If that’s still unsure come week 1, Blair will not be a starting member of the Seahawks defense.

Can a 195lb player with these traits get it done in the box, in Seattle’s style of defense? Blair adding bulk doesn’t seem conducive to his game, given his downhill speed is a big positive. So, will increasing his hand usage and encouraging him to stack blockers on the outside noticeably improve things? Carroll will back the coaching staff’s ability to mold Blair’s nose for the football into an effective NFL EDGE setter.

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You’d think the NFL, the corporate and cultural behemoth of American sports, would have a set of rules governing the attributes of a franchise quarterback.

You’d think, 100 years into this thing, it would have a stone-scroll template that determines how it chooses the young men who become the most exalted and fetishized athletes in the game.


You would be wrong — not that it doesn’t try. Oh god, how it tries. It has the combine and the pro days and the interviews and the individual workouts and the jumps and the leaps and the shuttles and the endless measuring and the computerized timing and whatever else it can think of to analyze a human being within a centimeter of his life. And yet, when it comes to what’s important and predictive as it pertains to a presumptive franchise quarterback, your guess is probably as good as theirs.

History shows us he can be slow. He can be weak. He can be dumb. He can be a bad teammate. He can even combine a few of those at once and still get drafted before the first bank of commercials. But as the NFL defined itself as America’s favorite pseudo-religion, and as the dumb and the weak and the slow cleared the underbrush for future generations of dumb and weak and slow, there remained just one thing a quarterback couldn’t be: short. Football’s merchants of speculation might argue about Wonderlic scores, hand sizes and the pitfalls of a country-club background, but they all view short the same way: quantifiable and damned obvious. Short can’t hide.


For more on the athletes and ideas that represent the future of sports, check out the May issue of ESPN The Magazine.

• Nick Bosa is ready for a triumphant return
• Fran Belibi is the future of the WNBA…if she wants to be

• Will this tech experiment change football forever?
• Can Kyler Murray upend decades of draft convention?

Being tall excuses just about everything. If he’s 6-4 and dumb, they’ll call him football-smart. If he’s 6-4 and slow, they’ll tout his real or imagined ability to move in the pocket. If he’s 6-4 and weak, they’ll change his diet and point him toward the weight room. If he’s 6-4 and a bad teammate, they’ll surround him with veterans who can fix that right quick. Every flaw can be worked around or compensated for or beaten out, organizationally speaking. Except height.

Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray measured 5-10 1/8 at the combine, and the number was reported as an achievement, maybe even a defining moment in the Heisman Trophy winner’s career. He is small, not just for a quarterback but for a high school point guard. And yet the Arizona Cardinals just might make him the first pick of the 2019 NFL draft.

How did this happen? Did the NFL’s thinking change? Or is Kyler Murray that rarest of humans — the kind who can change the NFL’s thinking?
“Here’s the one thing you need to know about Kyler,” says former NFL quarterback and coach Jim Zorn. “Short goes away when you see what he can do.” Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SPORTS
MURRAY IS MANY things other than short. He is wickedly fast, smart, strong and slightly mysterious. He throws the ball with both ease and a force that can be measured audibly. He possesses an undercover agent’s awareness of his immediate surroundings and a distant reserve that is easily — and inaccurately, according to those who know — taken for cold detachment.

Some of the stories seem to border on the apocryphal. He is so fast that his center at Oklahoma, Creed Humphrey, swears there were times he would block on a quarterback draw and “feel the wind coming off him when he’d go by.” At the risk of further hyperbole, Murray’s athletic ability might be generationally transcendent. By the end of April, he will be the only person ever drafted in the first round in both Major League Baseball (ninth, by Oakland, in 2018) and the NFL. The Athletics gave him a $4.7 million bonus and projected him to be their star center fielder of the future. They also gave him their blessing when he said he wanted to play one more year of football at Oklahoma, which he turned into 4,361 yards passing, 1,001 yards rushing and that Heisman. The Athletics’ generosity came with a cost; now he’s someone else’s quarterback of the future. (Unless, of course, they return with the offer of a major league contract that might be lucrative enough to change his mind one more time. Baker Mayfield got $32.7 million guaranteed as last year’s No. 1 pick — the A’s could double that if they choose.)


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The analytics that recommended Mayfield, another undersized Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Oklahoma, serve Murray well. Murray’s 11.6 yards per pass attempt was the highest by an FBS quarterback since 2004. And despite his height, he had just four balls batted down or defended within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage last season. Daniel Jones, a 6-5 likely first-round pick from Duke, had 14. In addition, the NFL’s lean toward more spread-style offenses (the kind Kliff Kingsbury will employ with the Cardinals) has lessened the perceived risk of a short quarterback. Evaluators can point to Russell Wilson and Drew Brees as evidence that shorter quarterbacks can find passing lanes inside and outside the pocket, and they can fulfill themselves by comparing Murray to Wilson-despite vast differences in speed and style-because nobody has much of an imagination anymore.

“Kyler’s always had bigger people in front of him,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley says. “He’s always had to find creative arm angles, find different lanes, move in the pocket to create them. He’s had to deal with it forever. I’ve always said, ‘If you’re going to be short now, you’d rather be short the whole time.'”

It’s an interesting recommendation: Look, we know he’s short, but he’s always been short.

“Don’t look at his film from college or even high school,” says Tom Westerberg, Murray’s head coach at Allen High, north of Dallas. “Look at peewee football or middle school. He’s always been what he is now — a small quarterback. There was never a time when he was one of the bigger ones on the field. This is all he knows, and I think he’s going to challenge the NFL’s thinking and then blow it out of the water.”

Murray started for Riley at Oklahoma for just one year, and yet when Riley is asked if there’s one play that typifies Murray’s rare skills, he is silent for a full 13 seconds as he sorts them through his mind. Finally, he says it happened midway through last season, against Texas, when the Sooners’ offensive linemen so thoroughly botched a play that it’s a wonder they all made it out alive. The ball was snapped, and the right guard and right tackle pulled to the left while the left tackle pulled to the right. As they tried to dodge one another — there’s a split second where it seems plausible the right guard might ask the left tackle what he’s doing there — Murray acted as if this were the plan all along. He maneuvered past the pileup, sidestepped an unblocked defensive end, turned the corner and ran 67 yards for a touchdown.

“Here’s the one thing you need to know about Kyler,” says former NFL quarterback and coach Jim Zorn, who worked with Murray to prepare him for his pro day. “Short goes away when you see what he can do.”

THE MAKING OF a legend, in three parts:

I. Jeff Fleener was an assistant coach at Allen High — home of the $60 million, 18,000-seat stadium — when he first heard that Kevin Murray had started a business to train high school and college quarterbacks in the area.

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Another coach told him, “Kevin’s son can get it.”

That’s a good tip, right? Son of a former star quarterback is training in your area, be worth your time to check it out.

“Oh yeah? How old is he?” Fleener asked.

“He’s 9, but I’m telling you …”

Fleener cut him off. “OK, whatever. I mean — he’s 9.”

The guy shrugged and raised his eyebrows in a suit-yourself kind of way.

“I’m just telling you,” he said, “the kid can flat-out throw — and he can fly.”

“Yeah, but he’s 9,” Fleener said.

“Yeah,” the guy said, “but just you wait.”

II. When Oklahoma running back Trey Sermon was at Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia, the last thing his quarterback did before he took the field on Friday night was take out his phone and watch a highlight video to get hyped for the game.

Sermon asked him what he was watching, and the quarterback just held the phone up and said, “Kid from Texas. Kyler Murray.”

The quarterback knew this Murray kid had never lost a high school game. Eventually, he would go on to win three straight state championships at Allen and enter the conversation about the best and most famous prep player in Texas history.

Back in that locker room in Marietta, Sermon watched the video to its end, and when that little kid was finished running past people and throwing over them, Sermon looked at his quarterback and said, “Wow. He’s something else.”

III. Lincoln Riley is sitting in a deep leather couch in his office when he’s asked to recall his first impressions of Murray. The office has the feel of a sacristy — ornate furnishings, ceilings tall enough to create echo-y acoustics, a Vatican-level shrine of the sponsor’s brand of sneakers on one wall. It’s an oligarch’s office presided over by a 35-year-old guy in a sweatsuit and a baseball cap. The scene is worth mentioning because A) guys like Murray helped to build it, and B) it’s so comically outsized and ostentatious that even Riley seems a little embarrassed by it.

Asked about Murray, Riley tugs at the bill of his OU golf cap and starts talking about the one and only occasion he’s known Murray to run a timed 40-yard dash, right after Murray transferred to Oklahoma in 2015.

“He left Texas A&M and came here after the first semester ended, early December, so by the time we got him he hadn’t been playing a sport for about six weeks,” Riley says. “It was the first time in his life he wasn’t playing a sport, and it was easily the most out of shape I’ve ever seen him. For him, he was kind of pudgy. I knew he was very athletic, but I thought he might come in here and run a 4.5, which for a quarterback is blazing fast. Well, we tested him the first week he got here and he ran a 4.3 on a laser. That was just like — wow. Out of shape — wow. And that’s the last 40 he’ll ever run in his life.”

Is that why Murray didn’t run at the combine or his pro day?

Riley draws his words out like blown glass.

“There … is … no … need.”
“I think he’s going to challenge the NFL’s thinking and then blow it out of the water,” says Murray’s high school coach, Tom Westerberg. Brett Deering/Getty Images
VIEWED FROM A certain angle, Kyler Murray’s life has taken shape as a variation on a theme. Thirty-six years before Kyler became an Athletic, 18-year-old Kevin Murray, Kyler’s dad, was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and played one unsatisfying year in the minors before deciding to play quarterback at Texas A&M. He was sued by the Brewers, who claimed breach of contract and demanded that Kevin’s $35,000 signing bonus be repaid.


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After leaving baseball, Kevin led the Aggies to two Southwest Conference championships, set SWC records for total offense and sat through 12 rounds of the 1987 draft without hearing his name. Nineteen quarterbacks — Mark Vlasic, Sammy Garza, Ken Lambiotte, Dave Walter from Michigan Tech — were taken in 12 rounds of that draft, and a Dallas Morning News story on Kevin after the draft ran under the headline, “He’s a QB Nobody Wants.” In the story, one NFL scout, as if calling out a 1987 bingo card for criticizing black quarterbacks, said the league decided Kevin was “a little arrogant, didn’t always go to school; his work habits are not good and he’s moody.” There was talk that he was an inaccurate passer, despite his completing nearly 60 percent of his passes at a place and time when throwing the ball happened primarily on third-and-10. An unnamed A&M official at the time told the Morning News that Kevin wasn’t drafted because he was black, and Lynn Amedee, A&M’s offensive coordinator, said, “Somebody blackballed him.”

Kevin, who still runs a quarterback-training service, was a prominent figure at Kyler’s pro day workout in Norman. He was on the field helping his son warm up before his throwing drills, and he and his wife, Missy, stood directly behind Kyler as Zorn led the throwing session. “Kevin isn’t there so he can say, ‘Look what I’ve done,'” Zorn says. “He’s supporting his son. The son could say, ‘Dad, go away,’ and he would. But Kyler respects his dad and appreciates what he’s doing for him.” When I introduced myself to Kevin earlier in the day and told him I’d like to interview him in the coming weeks for this story, he nodded noncommittally and flashed a look that discouraged further conversation.

“Kevin is tough,” Westerberg says. “He has a pretty good front to people who don’t know him. He definitely wants what is best for his son, but he is not a coddling parent. If Kyler does something wrong, he’s going to get the same look Kevin gave you.”

Camp Murray is a tightly sealed ecosystem but is not without its complications: Kevin’s brother, former big league outfielder Calvin Murray, is a longtime lieutenant of agent Scott Boras, who handled Kyler’s baseball negotiations. When Kyler announced his decision to play football instead of baseball, any further public discussion of baseball was prohibited. Kyler and his parents declined to be interviewed for this story, and two sources — despite having nothing but laudatory things to say about Kyler — had to clear it with the family before consenting to speak.

No man’s distrust is abstract, untethered to the lines and angles that shape his life, and in that light, Kevin’s protection of Kyler is understandable. Kyler is a 21-year-old public figure in a hypercritical environment where everyone has a voice, and opinions are wielded like knives. The insulation and learned circumspection is part of the reason Kyler lives in the spotlight and yet remains unconstrained by it. Athletes would seem to face a binary choice: Embrace the fame or avoid it. Either on guard or onstage. Murray resides in a third realm: He ignores its very existence. If you don’t acknowledge it, is it really there? And when it’s been there as long as you can remember — when coaches know your name when you’re 9 and kids four states over are watching your high school highlights as pregame hype — does it eventually blend into the background, just more white noise?

“Kyler’s aware of the attention — he just doesn’t care,” Riley says. “When he first got here, it was almost like he was a little anti-social. He’s come to embrace it a little more. He doesn’t dread that part of it now. When he first got here, he didn’t want to do interviews. He was like, ‘It’s not going to help me become a better football player, so why should I do it?’ Not to be a jerk — it’s just not him. I told him, ‘If you want to be what you want to be — an NFL quarterback or an All-Star center fielder — this is part of it. You have to develop this part just like you do other parts of your game.'”
Did he? Riley says Murray got better, that he tried, but there’s not a lot of conviction in his words, and the results are inconclusive. During Super Bowl week, Murray appeared on the Dan Patrick Show as part of a promotional gig for Gatorade, and the interview devolved into an excruciating question-and-nonanswer session about whether he would play baseball or football. He assiduously avoided any in-depth media interviews as the draft approached. CeeDee Lamb, an Oklahoma receiver who caught 1,158 yards’ worth of passes from Murray last year, says he’s never met anyone who can isolate himself from outside influences, good and bad, the way Murray can. He laughs just thinking about it and says, “Kyler, man — he’s away from everything. Honestly, I don’t know how he does it.”

And within those words is a mystery that remains unsolved: Is he blocking it all out, or taking it all in? Someone, probably someone in Arizona, is about to launch a revolt against the establishment, and who better to lead than a guy who leaves expectations flailing in his wake? Murray’s next challenge is both enormous and simple: upend decades of convention and, along the way, determine whether new expectations represent limits — or possibilities.

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The Seahawks’ veterans are taking the next step in offseason workouts in this spring’s walk-up to summer training camp.

Earl Thomas is not in step with them.

Seattle began the first of three weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) Monday at team headquarters in Renton. The Seahawks also will be on the practice field for no-pads workouts Tuesday and Thursday this week, May 29-30 and June 1 next week and June 4-7. It’s the third of four offseason phases before training camp begins July 26. The fourth phase is the mandatory veteran minicamp June 12-14.

That may be the only part that entices Thomas to show up.

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The three-time All-Pro safety wasn’t at the start of OTAs on Monday, as expected. He hasn’t been at any team workout since last season ended on New Year’s Eve.

Why? Because these practices and meetings are still voluntary, per the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Coaches, of course, have a different view of “voluntary” this time of year—call it “strongly encouraged.” But the letter of the NFL contract law remains the same.
“Veterans sometimes look at those rules and they see ‘voluntary,’ and they see it differently than other guys,” coach Pete Carroll said when I asked him about Thomas two weeks ago, at the end of the team’s minicamp for rookies.

“So, we’ll see.”

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Pete Carroll talks about his top draft picks at end of Seahawks’ rookie minicamp
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll discusses his top draft picks at the end of the team’s three-day rookie minicamp. Gregg Bell

On Monday, All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner ended an interview on the Seahawks’ flagship radio station, Seattle’s KIRO AM, with an unsolicited show of support for his star teammate.

“Before we get off, I would like to take this time to shout out to Earl Thomas,” Wagner told 710 ESPN Seattle. “I think he’s an amazing player. I think he’s an amazing person. He’s a Hall of Famer. And just let him know that we’re over here wishing for the best in that situation and we’re thinking about him, and I just want him to know that from this end.”

Asked by the station’s host why he felt the need to voice support for Thomas over the air, unprompted, Wagner said: “Just because he needs to know. He needs to know that we appreciate him over here.”

That’s opposite what Wagner and Thomas had going in December, after Thomas said Wagner should not have played hurt in a pivotal division game at home against the Los Angeles Rams. Wagner was limited by a hamstring injury, and the Rams smacked the Seahawks 42-7 in Seattle to win the NFC West and effectively end the Seahawks’ playoff streak at five seasons.

So at least through all their upheaval this offseason these Seahawks have progressed from that.

The team can begin fining Thomas if he misses any of that June 12-14 minicamp, or training camp.
Thomas isn’t in the mode of giving away money. He’s the opposite. He’s seeking a new, third contract and wants to be the highest-paid safety in the NFL beyond his deal that ends after the 2018 season. That means at or above the $13 million per year and $40 million guaranteed, what Kansas City gave his 2010 draft classmate Eric Berry last year. He also has stated he wants to remain a Seahawk—at his price, that is.

If Thomas, who turned 29 on May 7, stays away from the mandatory minicamp next month that would indicate he may be willing to lose money over his principle into training camp, too.

But Seahawks general manager John Schneider said last month he’s been told by Thomas’ representatives that the six-time Pro Bowl free safety will not hold out into training camp or the season, as fellow safety Kam Chancellor did for naught while seeking a new deal three years ago.

Schneider has also said the Seahawks’ precedents of getting extensions done with core players before they play out their final contract seasons does not apply to Thomas. The GM has said that’s because this is a third contract for him, not the second ones that others—for Thomas, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Doug Baldwin—have been.

The Seahawks have other contract issues besides Thomas’ beyond this year. Most prominently, they must plan for giving Wilson a new, third contract at $30-million-plus per year this time next year. The franchise quarterback’s deal ends after 2019. And the market for elite quarterbacks continues to rise. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers next in line to push that going rate even higher.

The Seahawks have had stars skip OTAs and offseason workouts in previous springs. Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett used to stay at his winter home in Hawaii then show up for the mandatory minicamp and training camp to avoid fines. Former cornerstone running back Marshawn Lynch also usually only showed up when he was mandated to, usually by the start of training camp.

Thomas has been publicly preparing for the possibility the transitioning Seahawks will decide to let him leave rather than give him a new, rich deal as he approaches 30 years old.

In December, after a win at Dallas in his home state of Texas, Thomas went to the Cowboys’ locker room and told coach Jason Garrett to “come get me.” A few minutes later in the locker room in Arlington, Texas, that Christmas Eve day, Thomas said he meant when Seattle “kicks me to the curb.”