- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Stanford coach David Shaw never saw him wrestle a steer. He also wasn’t going to question whether or not Trent Murphy could do such a thing. He did not want Murphy to somehow demonstrate on him. Besides, he witnessed how Murphy used his hands in a game to drag down opponents.
Shaw was reminded of this the other day watching Murphy highlights.
“You see that hand strength to be able to reach out and grab a runner and a quarterback,” Shaw said by phone, “and for that guy to not break loose. Every time you see it happen -- and it happened multiple times -- I think about those poor steers.”
Those hands are pivotal to Murphy’s success -- and they are a big part of the reason why he led the nation in sacks this past fall with 15. The Redskins surprised many by selecting Murphy with the 47th pick in the second round, but they liked his toughness and all-around game. Shaw said if you look for flash in Murphy’s game, you won’t find it. But Shaw, of course, is confident his former player will end up being a good pick for the Redskins.
It starts with the hands.
“There are so many near misses in the NFL, so many almost sacks, so many times where you almost have the runner and he just gets away,” Shaw said. “I’m curious to see if a guy like Trent can get one hand on him and get a fistful of jersey, no matter how agile he is, he can hold on and pull the guy back toward him. I do believe that will be a great strength for him.”
Here are some other reasons Shaw expressed confidence in Murphy:
He’s not alone
At Stanford, Murphy was the lone pass-rushing threat. On tape, there were times Murphy was blocked by three men on one play. The line slid his way, tight ends or backs would chip him before going out on a route. In the NFL, at best he’s probably their fourth best pass-rusher -- behind Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Hatcher.
“Through all of that, he still led the nation,” Shaw said. “There’s a tenacity there. They initially block you and now what do you do? A lot of pure speed rushers, if they can’t get around the edge the pass rush is over. A lot of sacks he made were off secondary pass rushes, extra-effort rushes. You get a guy whose motor is always going.
“Trent is also really good against the run. He’ll hold up outside the tight end and not let the run game get outside. He’ll make plays and get off blocks to tackle the runner. You’re not getting a super flashy player, you’re getting a player who will be productive who is tough.”
Shaw said Murphy was one of three or four players on Stanford’s defense who could recognize offensive sets and adjust accordingly. That was crucial when playing fast-paced teams such as Oregon (in the NFL, it will help against Philadelphia in particular).
Shaw said he once asked Murphy, a quiet guy early in his career, what he thought. Murphy went into detail on a handful of offensive players and what he learned watching them.
“I asked one question and he talked for three or four minute and mentioned five players who tipped their hands,” Shaw said. “That’s the moment where you say, this guy knows how to study film and takes great notes. You add length, determination and athleticism and knowing how to study and you got yourself a good player.”
The Redskins clearly like this aspect because they can now use him in a variety of pass-rushing situations or even have him drop into coverage on occasion. They, potentially, would have three outside linebackers capable of moving around or rushing from various spots. It’s what he did at Stanford. Shaw also pointed to Murphy’s variety of moves.
“The one thing you won’t see is that fast 40 time, but you see everything else. His spin move is quick. A lot of smaller guys do that and are very, very fast. He does it just as fast as smaller guys. Part of that is recognizing when the right time is to do it and when he comes back around, that elbow is coming around and he’ll get [the advantage].”
Shaw said some opposing quarterbacks had problems with Murphy’s length -- he’s nearly 6-foot-6 -- on bubble screens, among other throws.
“That [length] is disconcerting to a quarterback,” Shaw said. “I’d seen it happen with different guys over the years where he deflects passes and the next thing you know the quarterback pulls the ball back and now the guy on the other side gets a sack. A lot of tackles for a loss he caused without touching anybody because he’s so long and got the quarterback to pull it back.”
He’s a little nasty
Shaw once called him Stanford’s “nastiest defender” because he had no off switch. Some teams wondered about this because they would see Murphy helping up quarterbacks after a play; Shaw said he received emails about this.
“He’s a good guy. But that’s after the play,” Shaw said. “During the play he’d as soon rip your head off and throw you on your backside and put his hands under your chin and walk you back to the quarterback. He likes the toughness of the game. He likes the difficult part of the game. That’s what you’re looking for, because the game is hard. So you need guys who have it from the inside who love it so much that when it starts to get tougher he becomes the guy who separates.”