For Aaron Murray, height isn't long and short of it at Senior Bowl
FAIRHOPE, Ala. -- Aaron Murray won't throw a pass in any practice situation this Senior Bowl week. The former Georgia quarterback won't scramble. He won't take a snap from the shotgun or from under center. His surgically repaired left ACL has rendered him a spectator with access to the South team's huddle and meetings. Still, Murray will leave the greater Mobile area with an important victory for which he deserves none of the credit. Congratulations, Mama and Papa Murray. You produced a bona fide six-footer.
Monday morning, hundreds of people at Mobile's convention center watched dozens of men in their underwear take a stage to be weighed and measured. As annual events go, it might be the creepiest one in all of football. But for Murray, the starter of 52 games and the owner of SEC records for total offense, completions, passing yards and touchdown passes, it was crucial. Not because the measuring session had anything to do with his ability to lead an offense, but because it allowed him to surpass an arbitrary number that likely will make him more palatable to those NFL coaches and personnel people who allow pounds and inches to occupy the same sphere of importance as wins and touchdowns in the nation's toughest collegiate league.
Murray wasn't sure what the (measuring) tape would show. While his training program has prepared him for most eventualities, getting measured isn't exactly something for which a player can practice. So shortly -- or tall-ly, depending on your perspective -- after it was announced Monday morning that Murray stands 6 feet and three-eighths of an inch, Murray reached for his phone and sent a victorious text to Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. "He always jokes with me saying I'm 5-10 or 5-11," said Murray, who now has definitive proof that he cracks the 6-foot barrier -- if only barely.
Still, Murray faces a climb far higher than the four to six inches between his height and the height the average NFL general manager considers optimum for a quarterback. Murray already would have contended with doubts about his size. Even though he passed the 72-inch mark, he's still shorter than all but four quarterbacks who finished the 2013 regular season on an NFL roster. The Saints' Drew Brees, the Chiefs' Chase Daniel and the Lions' Kellen Moore are all listed at 6 feet. At 5-foot-11, the Seahawks' Russell Wilson is the only active NFL quarterback shorter than Murray. Seneca Wallace, who appeared in two games for the Packers in 2013 before being placed on injured reserve, is also 5-11. Why does height matter? Conventional wisdom dictates that in a world of 6-6 offensive tackles and 6-4 guards, a quarterback must be able to see over his linemen to throw. Naturally, Murray considers this hogwash. "I played in the SEC," Murray said. "Those guys are pretty big. I don't have any trouble seeing over them or seeing around them."
A dominant performance against some of the nation's best during Senior Bowl practice -- combined with his excellent college tape -- might have assuaged any lingering doubts about Murray's height and vaulted him into a higher round. Instead, Murray, who tore his ACL on Nov. 23 against Kentucky, must hang behind the line of scrimmage and watch. He can get instruction from Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, but because of his knee, Murray can't show the scouts, coaches and general managers ringing the practice field each day that he can convert that instruction into completions and first downs. "It's tough," Murray said. "I'm a competitor. I want to go out there and compete. I'm itching to get out there and throw. But I know I've got to be smart. I know I've got to listen to the doctors."
Murray hopes coaches will judge him more by his 35-17 record and by the way he played when his team needed him most. Can he throw under pressure? Check out this third-and-13 play that sealed the win against South Carolina on Sept. 6. Is he mobile? Check out this run against Tennessee, which came after the Bulldogs had lost nearly every key skill position player on offense to injury except Murray.
Or ask a teammate. Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch is playing for the South team this week, and he came to Athens with Murray in the class of 2009. "He's the epitome of what you'd want as a quarterback," Lynch said. Lynch said Murray had the team's respect in his first game as the starter in 2010, and Lynch said Murray is still earning his respect. "For [goodness] sakes, he's out here and he can't even drop back," Lynch said. "But he's out here taking mental reps and helping quarterbacks who are essentially his competition. He's encouraging me. What else could you ask for?"
Or, better yet, ask an opponent. Former LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow faced Murray between the hedges on Sept. 28. "If I had to pick a word, it would be underrated," said Barrow, whose Tigers lost, 44-41, and gave up four touchdown passes to Murray. "I think he's one of the best quarterbacks in the country." In the days leading up to the game, Barrow marveled at Murray's pocket poise in watching him on video. When the Tigers saw Murray in person, they still weren't ready for his ability to escape pressure. "He made some plays against us where I thought we had him sacked and then, whoop, it's right over your head," Barrow said.
Murray won't get the chance to show off any of those skills this week. He hopes to be throwing and running by Georgia's pro day this spring, but he won't get to prove himself in Senior Bowl practice. Of course, with a South secondary that includes LSU safety Craig Loston, Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins and Auburn cornerback Chris Davis, Murray already has available tape of himself throwing against all those players. "They have four years of film on me," Murray said. "They can go back and watch all those games and see how I've thrown the ball." He'll also be able to impress coaches on the dry erase board with his knowledge of their offensive systems. The scheme used by Bobo and Georgia coach Mark Richt is far more similar to an NFL offense than some of the spread schemes that have all but taken over the college game. "It helps a lot," Murray said. "A lot of the stuff we're going over in meetings -- the drops and play-action and stuff like that -- is stuff I've been doing for the past four years."
Also helping Murray is a willingness to consider a shorter quarterback thanks to the success of Brees and Wilson. Sunday, Wilson helped the Seahawks reach the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, NFL personnel people seem intrigued by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who won't crack 6-foot by much -- if at all. Still, with the knee injury slowing him and the uncontrollable genetic factor dogging him, Murray could slide in the draft. He knows that. He also knows that what he did against quality competition the past four seasons wasn't a fluke. So he isn't worried about his health, which he intends to control by following his doctors' orders, or his height, which remains completely out of his control. "I don't care," Murray said. "People are going to say it. You've just got to go out there and prove them wrong."