'He gives me anxiety': How teams prepare for Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Quarterback Joe Webb had just signed with the Detroit Lions' practice squad Sept. 23 when he had to learn how to imitate one of the NFL's most dynamic players.

In just a few days, the Lions would face the Arizona Cardinals with second-year quarterback Kyler Murray under center. Preparing for the reigning rookie of the year is no easy task -- Murray's not just a pocket passer and mobile quarterback. He's good -- if not great -- at both.

Webb found himself with the unenviable assignment shared by a handful of quarterbacks and other skill players around the NFL each week: Trying to simulate Murray in practice to help the defense prepare.

Webb studied film to pick up on Murray's tendencies, such as which way he likes to scramble and which way he likes to throw. But even after studying, Webb by himself was not enough to replicate Murray. So he took snaps alongside a skill-position player in practice and combined they gave the Lions' first-team defense the looks they needed.

"Of course, you can't take everything that he does because he's such a great athlete and such a great quarterback but those are the types of things you try to take into play," Webb said.

The Lions beat the Cardinals 26-23 in Week 3 and Murray threw three interceptions. But not every team has found that type of success. Led by Murray, the Cardinals rank No. 1 in total offense through Week 9 (422 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring offense (29.3 points per game).

The Cardinals defeated the Washington Football Team 30-15 in Week 2 and coach Ron Rivera summed up preparing for Murray with few words: "He gives me anxiety."

"It's not an easy assignment, for sure, when you have a guy that can move the way he can move and he can throw the ball the way he can throw," said Jets coach Adam Gase, whose team lost to the Cardinals 30-10 in Week 5. "He sees a lot when he gets outside the pocket or when he steps up and gets flushed out there. He can take off if nobody comes up to try to put pressure on him and really create explosive plays on his own. ... When you do close the cushion, he can get the ball off and he'll find the open guy."

The Jets prepared for Murray the way most teams have: using fast players at quarterback to try to replicate Murray's 4.3-second speed. New York used running back Josh Adams and wide receiver D.J. Montgomery, scripting scramble pass plays as well as read-0ption quarterback keepers.

The San Francisco 49ers used wide receiver Richie James before their Week 1 game with Arizona.

Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said he used skill players in addition to quarterback Ben DiNucci because it was important for the defense to "feel the speed" ahead of a Monday Night Football matchup with the Cardinals.

"They crank it probably at the highest level of anybody in the league," McCarthy said of Murray and the Cardinals.

Washington used Kyle Allen and the Carolina Panthers used not one but three quarterbacks: Teddy Bridgewater, P.J. Walker and Will Grier.

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said he'd probably use a slot receiver to replicate Murray "because he's a unique talent when it comes to his stop-starting ability and making people miss in space."

The Lions' Webb, who stands 6-foot-3, about four inches taller than Murray, came into the NFL in 2010 running a high-4.3-second 40-yard dash. He used his speed in scramble drills while also dropping back and taking off, trying to get around the edge the way Murray does.

Webb also tried to replicate Murray's throws, especially the deep balls, as well as his ability to throw on the run. After watching Murray's film, Webb was impressed with how patient Murray is -- more than he initially expected. He also relayed to the defense Murray does a good job of keeping the ball in a throwing position to make it easier to release on the move.

"When most quarterbacks run, once they're out of the pocket, especially young quarterbacks, like Kyler Murray, they tuck the ball and they start running right away but that's not the case with him," Webb said. "He keeps his eyes. Of course, he can make a guy miss with no problem."

Added Lions coach Matt Patricia: "His explosive speed is really quite exceptional. It's really along the lines of like a punt returner."

Even seeing Murray twice a year it's not easy, Niners defensive coordinator Robert Salah said. The best solution? Reps, reps and more reps.

"You can't simulate the speed that Kyler has on the football field," Saleh said. "... You have to defend the entire field and they do as good a job as anybody in football making you do that."

Facing Murray comes with a specific set of challenges teams don't see every week and Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said his team played too cautiously against Murray. Still, it was a learning experience, he said.

"There's a responsibility when you're dealing with special talents like that," Del Rio said. "I told the guys we had a Barry Sanders rule: 'You can't relax until you're on the bus.' It's just part of the deal."