TEMPE, Ariz. -- Everybody knows rookie quarterback Kyler Murray is the biggest story for the Arizona Cardinals these days. What's not being discussed enough is something that is going to be the biggest factor in his success: the relationship he continues to build with head coach Kliff Kingsbury. They've known each other for years, going all the way back to Murray's heralded high school career in Texas. The major question now is how far that bond will take these two as they start their heavily hyped journey together.
Look around today's NFL and you'll see that nearly every rising young quarterback has a strong mentor in his corner. Patrick Mahomes, last year's MVP, has Andy Reid in Kansas City. Jared Goff has Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams. Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens surely knows a key reason he landed his current gig is because of how well he guided Baker Mayfield in 2018.
Now we've got Kyler and Kliff, with more than a little bit of pressure riding on the outcome.
"He's gotta know what I'm about and I have to know what he's about," Kingsbury said when asked about the relationship he wants to build with Murray. "There's a level of respect there. He knows I'm going to do everything I can to make him the best player he can be and I know he's going to sell out because he wants to be great. When you start there, you can pretty much work through anything."
The obvious benefit Kingsbury and Murray have is that they don't have to work at building trust. They've had that ever since Kingsbury was coaching at Texas Tech and trying to recruit Murray to his program. Those efforts didn't work out for Kingsbury back then but he's been an unabashed fan of Murray's ever since. Most people believe the Cardinals' interest in Murray started as soon as they hired Kingsbury, who had been gushing about the young quarterback's talent during Murray's Heisman-trophy winning season at Oklahoma last year.
Kingsbury now starts his first tenure as an NFL head coach knowing quite a bit about how Murray is hard-wired. Murray, in turn, begins his pro career fully aware that his coach truly does have his back. It's not like it was in Kansas City for Mahomes, who sat behind Alex Smith for a year while learning how to be a professional quarterback under Reid and his staff. Mahomes had to trust the Chiefs' plan before he ever played a down while Murray essentially is going to learn everything on the fly.
This is why it's crucial that Murray feel at ease as quickly as possible, which seemed to be the case during the start of Arizona's rookie minicamp on Friday. When asked about how he managed the offense in his first practice, Murray acknowledged his delight in running a system that is comparable to the spread offense he ran in college.
"It's pretty similar," Murray said. "Today I was pretty comfortable, surprisingly comfortable as far as the communication and stuff like that. I think that's helped me out a lot."
The folks who understand quarterback play will see the value in that comfort. As much as people rave about Murray's talents -- the undeniable arm talent, the breathtaking speed and the requisite confidence that comes with losing just three of the games he's started since his freshman year of high school -- the fact is he's still human. He's not going to walk into the league and just dominate like he always has. He's going to need all the help he can get to make good on the investment Arizona made in him.
The Chiefs gave Mahomes an assortment of weapons in his first year as a starter. The Rams surrounded Goff with his own array of talent while the Browns just engineered a trade that brought wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. into Mayfield's huddle. Aside from future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald -- who turns 36 in August -- and running back David Johnson, the Cardinals are relying on a collection of players who are mostly unproven. The same offensive line issues that plagued Murray's predecessor, Josh Rosen, might now be Murray's burden to bear.
Sure, it helps that Murray is an electric runner. It also means plenty that Kingsbury understands that his star quarterback can't do this all by himself.
"I obviously wasn't here last year but in watching the film you can see we had a tough time winning on the outside," Kingsbury said. "We've signed some rookies and vets that we think can help but you have to have great players around you to be a great quarterback. Kyler's ability to extend plays and escape is going to help. But we have to have guys who can make plays down the field."
Kingsbury is hoping to find playmakers somewhere in a pack of new acquisitions. The team signed free-agent wide receivers Kevin White and Damiere Byrd, neither of whom has done much thus far in their young careers. The team used three draft picks on more receivers: Hakeem Butler, Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson. The Cardinals also have high hopes for last year's second-round pick, Christian Kirk, to produce even more after a promising rookie season.
What Kingsbury also has to manage is the predictable challenges that come with taking over a team that went 3-13 and fielded the league's worst offense in 2018. This is a team that needs more than a star quarterback. The Cardinals gave up on both Rosen and former head coach Steve Wilks after just one year for a reason. This is a team desperate to keep up in the NFC West, where every other franchise is set at quarterback and blessed with more young talent than Arizona currently has on its roster.
There will be enormous expectations for Murray simply because his talent is so off the charts. There will be just as many people wondering about Kingsbury, who landed this job even though his alma mater fired him when he couldn't turn Texas Tech into a successful program. It's not a stretch to think Kingsbury is here because he groomed Mahomes in college and he's already cool with Murray. It's also fair for some to think that a coach who couldn't win in college might be in over his head at the highest level of football.
Of course, there will be plenty of time to figure that out down the road. What matters most now is what Murray was talking about on Friday afternoon, how this is just day one for him and the important thing is to keep stacking up one good practice after another.
"I know how he's been coached," Kingsbury said. "I know what he has a pretty good feel for, just talking to prior coaches and his dad, who also coached him. It helps me to pick up where they left off."
The Cardinals will be relying on that familiarity as this season nears. There's no doubt that Murray is realistic about the work that lies ahead and that Kingsbury understands that this team didn't wind up with the first pick in the draft because of bad luck. The Cardinals have to establish a new culture, with their new quarterback and head coach serving as the foundation. Those two will drive whatever enthusiasm this franchise can generate.
The good news is that it can happen faster than expected. Nobody saw Mahomes taking the league by storm in his first full year as a starter and some were writing off Goff as a bust before McVay ever entered his life. Murray and Kingsbury just might be the next big thing to hit the NFL. Their relationship will play a huge role in determining how quickly that actually happens.