TEMPE, Ariz. — Receiver Andy Isabella found a little time to “BS” with Kyler Murray around a meal. Receiver Hakeem Butler said the Arizona Cardinals’ No. 1 pick is just a regular guy.
Yet the weight of this 11-man rookie class heading into a season in which many of them are expected to play key roles can’t be understated, especially with regard to Murray as he’s thrust into the very position predecessor Josh Rosen struggled in just a year ago.
Rookie mini-camp opened Thursday with optimism and get-to-know-you excitement for the impressionable youngsters.
“I feel like a freshman going into college again,” Butler said.
It’s only Day 1, but Murray’s rookie teammates couldn’t avoid being impressed with their rookie quarterback’s on-field exploits. Butler, who went to Travis High School outside of Houston, first heard of Murray growing up as the Allen High School quarterback prospect became infamous in Texas’ notorious youth football culture.
“He was known around the state,” said Butler, who was a fourth-round pick by the Cardinals. “He had like 25 touchdowns in the first four games (of one season) or something. I was like, this kid ain’t human.
“The kid’s incredible. I just think he’s really intelligent when it comes to the game of football. He just seems so calm and under control out there. I like that.”
At Iowa State, Butler played against Murray and the Oklahoma Sooners this past season.
So did former Alabama safety Deionte Thompson, Arizona’s fifth-round pick. Thompson also hails from Texas and likewise got an up-close look at Murray in college.
The Crimson Tide beat the Sooners 45-34 in the College Football Playoff semifinals this past December.
Alabama put up 21 points to begin the game before Murray got the offense churning, going 19-for-37 for 308 yards and two scores. He added 107 rushing yards and another touchdown on the ground, and it was the gameplanning for Murray and ineffectiveness of that plan that made the quarterback’s dual-threat talent so evident to Thompson.
“Just playing for Coach (Nick) Saban, the gameplans that he would come up with, I never thought we were going to lose … because he had so many ways to isolate guys, shut guys down,” the safety said. “When we came in, first quarter, they had like 24 total yards. Second quarter they start coming … and look up in the third quarter, (Murray is) running up and down the field, throwing touchdowns, and I’m like, ‘Coach, you didn’t tell us it was gonna be like this.’
“He was able to extend the play,” Thompson added. “An average football player … (can extend a play) from four to six seconds. This guy could extend the play to seven to eight seconds. As a DB, you can’t cover that long. You can try.”
MANY CHIPS ON MANY SHOULDERS
A central theme to the Cardinals’ mid-round picks: being overlooked.
Isabella has always been judged by his height. He stands 5-foot-9 and was offered scholarships to play at Air Force and FCS schools before UMass offered him two days before national signing day.
Always with a professional sports career on his mind, being on an island at a smaller school benefited the wide receiver, he said.
“We have an omelette lady who cooks omelettes for the football team,” he said. “Once she said to my dad, ‘Andy’s always here at 7 a.m. every single day.’ It didn’t matter if it was Monday or Saturday, I was always there.”
Even when one of his coaches told the groundscrew not to clear the field of snow, simply to force Isabella to take a day off. Coaches found the receiver clearing it himself before working out one weekend.
Those two things stuck in his mind as examples of his work ethic.
Height was an issue for Butler as much as it was for Isabella.
“He’s short so I know he got a lot of knocks. I’m tall — people knocked me because I’m tall,” the 6-foot-5 wideout said. “I never knew being a mismatch is a problem. You carry that chip on your shoulder. I hope he has one, because mine’s huge.”
For Thompson, a knee injury reportedly red-flagged by some teams sent his stock falling in the draft. The Cardinals weren’t concerned by it, and Thompson didn’t even know it was an issue until he was selected.
“There’s 13 safeties picked before me. That’s something I’ll never forget. That added a chip on my shoulder,” Thompson said.
“It really sucked but at the end of the day, I’m just happy to hear my name get called. That was a huge milestone for me and my family.”
NOT HITTING THE WRONG BUFFET
Third-round pick and defensive end Zach Allen on whether he is trying to gain weight: “Right now I’m kinda high 270s, low 280s. Probably just try to gain some but do it smart, don’t just go for the Golden Corral all-you-can-eat buffet.”