The Cleveland Browns (4-3-0) face the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday after everyone sets their clocks back an hour. Well, everyone except citizens of the State of Arizona who don’t observe this national occurrence.
For Browns fans, it was a chance to see their former backup QB Josh Dobbs in action in a regular season game. Except the Cards traded Dobbs to the Minnesota Vikings on Halloween, the final day of the league’s trade deadline.
Dobbs had been traded to Arizona before the season began when their starting quarterback Kyler Murray was still rehabbing from a serious knee injury. Now that Dobbs is gone, who will start for the Cardinals against the Browns this Sunday?
Murray is actually practicing again. Whether he is able to start Sunday or play at all, remains a question. He was a full participant at Wednesday’s practice. Despite practicing, he currently remains on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.
On the Cardinals website, head coach Jonathan Gannon stated:
“He’s fired up, ready to go. He was really good in the team meeting [Wednesday]. Put him on the spot [with a question]. He was excellent.”
Answering questions regarding this week’s game plan does not mean Murray will suit up against Cleveland. In fact, he has had a minimal number of snaps in the team’s new offense. Getting a quarterback up to speed is actually a huge undertaking.
For Murray to actually suit up on game day, the 1-7-0 Cardinals would have to activate him back on the 53-man roster. But it was noted in the Arizona Republic that Murray was zipping passes with accuracy during that Wednesday practice which was only open to the media for just 20 minutes.
This week, Gannon has never divulged his plans for practice reps between Murray and rookie Clayton Tune.
The University of Houston product was taken in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL draft after being named First Team All-AAC his senior year. As a three-year starter, Tune amassed 11,989 passing yards with 104 touchdowns and 41 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,248 yards and added another 15 rushing TDs.
Although Tune and Murray can both gain yardage with their legs, their running and scrambling styles are different. Quarterbacks who are able to run have been an issue for this Browns’ defense.
Tune has ties to the Cardinals’ first-ever draft pick in 1936 when the Cards took RB Jim Lawrence out of TCU. Lawrence would play four years with the Chicago Cardinals.
But the question is, who is going to start?
It is expected either today or Saturday Gannon will announce the game’s starter, but don’t hold your breath. He is not required to name a starter until the two teams face off Sunday.
Gannon told the Republic regarding whether Tune will be ready for a live game that counted:
“Production in practice, the amount of reps he’s getting. He’s playing faster, operation with a little bit better handle on the offense as you would expect for a quarterback to do the more reps he gets. I’m excited to see him out there practicing today. He’s going to go in there if he’s in there and let it rip.”
It is assumed that if and when Murray is ready, he will be inserted moving forward for the remainder of the schedule. Also on Wednesday, the franchise re-signed QB Jeff Driskel to the practice squad and will in all likelihood activate him on game days as the third QB. Driskel was in Arizona training camp this year so he knows their system. He was released on the final cutdown.
Gannon added regarding his choice to start:
“We’ll see how the week goes. I truly don’t know that. I like to evaluate the week of practice as we go. We’ll make that decision as it gets closer to game time. Just a week of practice, honestly. We had great strides this last week, and got a lot of reps. But I want to see (Murray) operate this week and make sure he feels comfortable and then make a decision. He’s fully healthy. He’s only had however many practices he’s had for a couple of weeks. We want to make sure he’s comfortable with everything that we’re doing and then make that decision.”
Former Browns QB coach Drew Petzing is Arizona’s offensive coordinator. It is his job to get Tune ready in case Murray isn’t physically ready.
But just as Cleveland must prepare for different quarterback scenarios, the Cardinals must do the same as QB Deshaun Watson may or may not start.
Gannon pointed out:
“Yeah, you have to have a couple of plans. Three really. As the week gets going you have to be able to adjust a little bit. Our guys know that. You’ve got to be ready for what you can get on Sunday, so you’ve got to do some work.”
While talking with reporters, Tune came short of stating he would start against the Browns. In that Wednesday practice, Tune was taking most of the first team reps from center Hjalte Froholdt, another former Browns player. In fact, Tune and Driskel were doing more dropbacks and throws than Murray.
Tune offered this:
“It’s exciting to have this opportunity. Feel like I’ve been preparing the same way I have been all season. But you know, just excited for this opportunity to go out and give my team an opportunity to win. Obviously, it’s a road environment, it’ll be wild, and there’ll be a lot going on. So just gotta operate clean and efficiently and if given the opportunity, go out and make the most of it.”
Whichever quarterback the Cardinals begin with under center, one thing is certain: DC Jim Schwartz will have a good game plan in place to deal with this high-emotion sport and welcome the rookie Tune to the NFL.