The St. Louis Rams lost a mind-boggling 10 defensive backs to injury during the 2011 NFL season, including Jerome Murphy, who flashed great potential in his rookie campaign after being selected at the top of the third round in the 2010 NFL Draft.
If the Rams are to excel in 2012 against teams led by elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady, they will need to stay healthy at cornerback in the 2012 NFL season.
Yesterday, I asked Murphy if he had any thoughts regarding his recovery as we approach the 2012 season. In reply, Murphy tweeted:
The impending return of the hard-hitting Murphy, 25, could be very important to head coach Jeff Fisher and new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Murphy possesses terrific athleticism with ideal height (6'0'') and size (200 pounds) for the position.
Murphy is a willing and able tackler, and a physical one at that, much like Cortland Finnegan, who played and excelled for Fisher with the Tennessee Titans. In fact, Finnegan earned first team All-Pro honors playing for Fisher in 2008.
Finnegan, a free agent, has stated that reuniting with Fisher in St. Louis is a possibility.
Like Finnegan, Murphy plays with the kind of toughness that Fisher, a former defensive back himself, loves. Words like tough, physical, aggressive and strong are used routinely and repeatedly to describe the feisty corner.
Murphy notched an impressive 77 tackles and four interceptions in 2009, his final season at the University of South Florida.
Other notable South Florida NFL products have included Ryan Benjamin, Bill Gramatica, Anthony Henry, Mike Jenkins, Kenyatta Jones, Stephen Nicholas, J.R. Reed, Sampson Genus and Nate Allen, among others. Allen (Round 2) and Pierre-Paul (Round 1) were taken in the 2010 NFL Draft with Murphy (Round 3).
I spoke with Rich Rachel, Murphy's defensive backs coach in 2006 and 2007 at South Florida (who also coached for two years with Steve Spagnuolo), and he said:
"He (Murphy) was just here about two weeks ago and at first I didn't recognize him. He looked like he had gained 10 pounds of muscle. He has long arms and is flexible and high-waisted. When he gets ready to bump, you are in for a long day if you are lined up across from him. He is a fierce tackler, even at the NFL level.
I think Coach Fisher will like him. He loves studying tape and he is eager to get going."
Murphy was projected to become the Rams' nickle corner in 2011 before being placed on injured reserve during the preseason.
Murphy excels at jamming wide receivers at the line, a skill that should bode well in Williams' blitz-heavy system. Furthermore, Murphy loves to hit and is dynamic in run support, traits that are great assets in any scheme.
With two of the Rams' top three projected corners from 2011 set to return at full strength (Murphy and Ron Bartell), St. Louis should immediately upgrade at defensive back.
If Bradley Fletcher (a starting corner opposite Bartell) can return from his second season-ending right knee injury in three seasons, the St. Louis secondary should set up nicely.
Keep in mind, Josh Gordy surprised many with his impressive play at cornerback in 2011, and he should, at the very least, be given an opportunity in training camp.
If the Rams were to return Murphy, Bartell and Fletcher and add the feisty and productive Finnegan via free agency, the St. Louis secondary could potentially become an elite group rather rapidly.
None will perhaps be more important than the athletic and hard-hitting Murphy, who could help both the run and pass defense immensely in 2012.