EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Early in the joint practices with the Arizona Cardinals this week, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. blanketed receiver Marquise Brown on an in-cutting route before intercepting the pass and punting the ball in celebration after the play.
It’s no surprise Murphy was all but running the route for Brown after spending four seasons in Arizona. The play, punt and two joint practices were meaningful to Murphy, the 2019 Cardinals’ second-round draft pick.
“I’m definitely juiced up,” Murphy said. “Those are my guys, my brothers I came with. I talk to them every single day. So, just to come on the grass and look across at them in a different jersey is kind of different. But it’s fun for me to come out here and compete against them guys.”
The interception also demonstrated what the Vikings are hoping to get out of Murphy, their most experienced cornerback after he signed a two-year, $17.5 million contract in the offseason. Minnesota has undergone a major transformation in the defensive backfield over the past several years.
Former Cardinals All-Pro Patrick Peterson was a part of the change, becoming the veteran leader in the secondary the past two seasons. But Peterson wasn’t re-signed and the Vikings looked to Murphy to be the veteran leader in 2023.
“Guys I coached out in LA like Cooper Kupp, he always talked about Byron. ‘He’s tough. He’s got great savvy instincts. Quick. Understands what you’re trying to do as a route runner,’ and that has shown up from day one,” Minnesota coach Kevin O’Connell said. “What I did not know is just, he has really assumed a leadership role. Every single day you get the same guy. I think he is excited to be in this organization.”
Murphy, along with veteran safety Harrison Smith, leads a secondary with a rookie, three 2022 draft picks, and a 2021 pick along with others looking to find a spot on the 53-man roster when teams are finalized next week.
While Murphy is an Arizona native — he went to Saguaro High School in Scottsdale before being drafted by his hometown team out of the University of Washington — he’s feeling at home in Minnesota.
“It’s been a great transition,” Murphy said. “Just to come to a new place is something you got to get familiar with. But I just feel like I came in and everything was just there for me right away. I came into the locker room and it just felt like a family.”
Since arriving in Minnesota, Murphy has caught the eye of All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson, who said Murphy reminded him of Peterson.
“He was very patient with his steps, wasn’t going for every single hit, move, every single step,” Jefferson recalled about Peterson. “He was patient in his technique, knowing his technique, knowing his leverages and I see the same thing in Byron. He’s definitely a great competitor. Of course, he’s definitely athletic.”
His former teammates were happy to see him this week as Arizona joined the Vikings for a pair of joint practices before their preseason game on Saturday.
“Just his energy, the type of person he was, just a great guy, great all-around guy who I was lucky to have him as one of my teammates in college,” Cardinals safety Budda Baker said. “He’s continuing to grow, continues to be a great guy and continuing to ball out on the football field.”
Murphy started much of the past four seasons for Arizona, tallying five interceptions and five fumble recoveries. But the Cardinals chose not to re-sign Murphy in a year of transition for them, as well, with new general manager Monti Ossenfort and coach Jonathan Gannon.
Murphy is showing the Cardinals what they're missing this week. Despite being in his fifth NFL season, Murphy still believes he’s got something to prove, both to the league and himself.
“I feel l got a lot to prove and this year, I think, that’s something I have to do and something I’ve been focused on for myself, to show everybody what type of corner I am,” Murphy said. “I play inside and outside, but obviously to be the best this year. So, I’m going to make it happen.”
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Brian Hall, The Associated Press