FOXBORO, Mass. — As he makes his third push for a New England Patriots roster spot, Bill Murray is doing something he hasn’t done in nearly a decade: playing on the offensive line.
Murray, who spent the last two seasons on the Patriots’ practice squad after signing as an undrafted rookie, had been exclusively a defensive lineman since he began his college career at William & Mary in 2015. That was his role this spring, as well, sporting his blue No. 97 jersey as he looked to distinguish himself in a position group that returned every contributor from last year’s team.
But when the Patriots opened training camp this past Wednesday, Murray was wearing a white No. 62 jersey and lining up at guard.
“I’m just here to help the team out in any way possible,” the 25-year-old said after Saturday’s camp practice. “Coach wanted me to try out offensive line, so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got and help out the team any way I can.”
Head coach Bill Belichick approached Murray between minicamp and training camp and informed him of his position change. Murray’s reaction?
“Oh, I’m excited,” he said. “It’s an opportunity. All I can be is just be grateful for this opportunity, take it (in) stride and get better every day.”
It hasn’t been an easy transition, though. Murray does have O-line experience at both guard and tackle, but only at the high school level, with all of his college and NFL reps coming on the defensive side of the ball.
“It’s a whole new position,” he said. “It’s very tough. My teammates have been very helpful, Coach has been very helpful and every day I’m just trying my best to get better every day. That’s all I can do.”
This isn’t the first time the Patriots have tried a player out in a new spot during training camp. In 2019, they moved second-year quarterback Danny Etling to wide receiver after drafting Jarrett Stidham. That switch did not pan out, and Etling was cut midway through the preseason.
But Murray said he’s also been told the story of Stephen Neal, an All-American college wrestler who signed with the Patriots as a defensive end before flipping to offense and going on to start 81 games at guard for New England.
Belichick adores Neal, so it’s no surprise he’d reference him as inspiration for Murray.
“It’s definitely a positive knowing people have done it,” said Murray, who’s also repped on the kick return and kick/punt coverage teams in camp.
Murray’s move suggests the Patriots both want to give him every opportunity to crack the roster — he has yet to be appear in a regular-season NFL game — and aren’t sold on their offensive line depth, which is unsettled beyond the projected top six of starters Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn and top reserve tackle Justin Herron.
James Ferentz, Yodny Cajuste, Yasir Durant, Will Sherman, Arlington Hambright, Drew Desjarlais, Kody Russey, Chasen Hines, Andrew Stueber and now Murray are vying for what likely will be just two or three roster spots, and Hines and Stueber — New England’s final two picks in the 2022 NFL Draft — have yet to make their practice debuts.
Trench play is impossible to properly evaluate in non-contact practices, so Murray’s first true O-line test will come Monday, when the Patriots strap on full pads for the first time this summer.
“What we preach here is to be smart, tough and dependable, so that’s what I’m trying to do every day,” he said.
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