During Day 1 of Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, I would say that the most intriguing Oklahoma Sooner to interview was Kenneth Murray — perhaps more interesting than Lincoln Riley. He is the unquestioned leader of the much-maligned Sooner defense, but he’s looking to change the perception in Year 3.
Other Sooners — Creed Humphrey, CeeDee Lamb, and Neville Gallimore — but Kenneth Murray’s demeanor stood out.
There isn’t a wide array of storylines on CeeDee Lamb, evidenced by the fact that someone asked him which team was going to win the Western Conference in the NBA for the coming season. I’m certainly not dogging the question, but it’s proof that there are only so many different ways to ask him what makes him such a badass. Others asked Creed Humphrey the obvious questions regarding the offensive line, which many are sure will be serviceable because of Bill Bedenbaugh. I asked Neville about the defensive line and the change of scheme up front.
All three of the aforementioned players answered the questions wonderfully. They all smiled during some of their responses — but not Kenneth. He was laser-focused, intense, honest and incredibly forthcoming.
As Murray deflected click-bait questions without any blink of an eye (complete with a stone-cold face and one-word answers), he was very thoughtful and considerate of questions that painted a more accurate picture of him and the state of the program in relation to his defense. I was able to ask Kenneth what kind of teacher and mentor Coach Brian Odom is in comparison to previous coaches. He paused, looking down and back up:
He continued, “He’s somebody I can lean on, whether that’s football-wise, life-wise or even just trying to get everybody to buy in... just being able to lean on him and just be able to take my concerns if I don’t feel good about this and then I’ll go talk to him about that... He’s also been very critical of me, and it’s something that I’ve been so thankful for, and it’s helping me take strides in getting better any way that I can.”
Kenneth spent his first year at Oklahoma playing the MIKE linebacker after he had been playing off the edge, rushing the passer his entire high school career. He said he was a “deer in the headlights”, as most of us would be if we transitioned from playing in the role of edge rusher. Combine that with being thrown into the middle of the defense to diagnose plays when you’ve never been asked to do that in your career, and the struggles are easily understood. It’s an incredibly tall task for a freshman, but nonetheless Kenneth showed up with the physique of Greek God and played as well as he could. His sophomore year, there was clear growth in his game as a MIKE linebacker, but he still wasn’t as dominant as his stature.
Murray understands the holes in his game and is in pursuit to be a better leader, teammate, communicator and player. He was tabbed as the Pre-Season Defensive Player of the Year among the Media for the 2019 season, and it appears as if Kenneth thinks he has a coach in Brian Odom that will shape him into the very effective linebacker that many think he should be.