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The Charlotte 49ers’ best defensive player is coming back. He has something to prove

·5 min read
Josh Bell/jvbell828@gmail.com

Tyler Murray, Charlotte’s leading tackler for the past two seasons and defensive captain, has decided to use his final year of eligibility in the Queen City. The NCAA granted an extra season of eligibility due to the pandemic, allowing players like Murray to utilize a sixth year.

Murray recorded a career-high 78 tackles and forced two fumbles in 2021, but his third year in Charlotte didn’t go how Murray envisioned as a team, nor individually.

“I want to accomplish the firsts of everything from a team standpoint,” Murray said. “Conference championship and winning a bowl game. For my own personal goals, just leaving here as one of the best players to ever play here. Really just putting better stuff on film that I didn’t do this year.”

The Jacksonville, Florida, native started his career in the Sun Belt at Troy where he recorded four interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in two seasons.

He made the decision to transfer to Charlotte following the 2018 season, just before the one-time-transfer rule took effect. Murray was forced to sit out the following year, which was the 49ers’ best season to date, going 7-6 and appearing in the Bahamas bowl. Head coach Will Healy named Murray the scout team MVP, stating that Murray made practice “hell” for the starting offense.

That praise rang true in the first game of the cancellation-ridden 2020 season. Murray burst onto the scene recording 14 tackles, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and an interception against Appalachian State in his debut with the program. He earned All-Conference USA honorable mention that year after recording 48 tackles in the 49ers’ six-game season.

He was listed as a Reeses’ Senior Bowl candidate ahead of the 2021 season, but according to Murray, he wants one more year to improve before he pushes for the NFL.

“The free-agent deals ... I’m not willing to settle for that,” Murray said. “I’ve got to put more stuff on film. I’m not satisfied. I’m going to do it better than I did this year so that I’m more satisfied when my time comes.”

Healy has mentioned Murray’s name as one of the 49ers’ few true NFL Draft prospects for the past two seasons. The two share a good relationship, one where they can hold each other accountable — but they can also have fun.

Murray left Healy a voicemail on April Fools’ Day following the conclusion of the 2020 spring session, pranking the 36-year-old head coach by saying he would transfer.

“Oh man, he was scared. He was terrified,” Murray said laughing. “I had like three calls that next morning and I wasn’t even up yet. Doing that joke showed me how much he really cared about me, though.”

Charlotte had one of the worst defenses in college football this season, ranking 120 out of 130 in total defense by allowing 464 yards per game. Healy and the 49ers have moved on from co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Brandon Cooper, as well as cornerbacks coach Eddie Hicks, and they must make strides during the off-season to improve the unit.

The Observer spoke with Murray over the phone following the conclusion of the 2021 season.

Hunter Bailey: I know the season just wrapped up, but have you had time to think about what facets of your game you’ll work on the most this offseason?

Tyler Murray: Physicality, coverage and tackling are the top three that I’ll be working on.

HB: You played the SAM linebacker position this season. Were you comfortable in that role?

TM: I enjoyed it. I played it at Troy so it was just me getting back into it. I’m also going to drop my weight down a little bit to around 220 or 225 so I can be more versatile in that position. I feel like I can continue to improve at it. It feels natural.

HB: There’s a lot going on with the coaching shakeup right now. What are your thoughts on the transitional period?

TM: It’s really just trusting in Coach Healy. Knowing that he knows what he’s doing with the staff, so we’re just trusting him and everything should work out.

HB: This is your third year with Healy. How have you seen him grow as a coach?

TM: He’s a young coach, so just understanding the head coach industry really. What he needs to do, how he needs to coach his players, and him just growing a part of my life. He’s evolved into one of the best coaches. I’m just excited to see what happens for him.

HB: A few players on the defensive side of the ball have stated their intentions to return next season. How does this group take a step forward and avoid a repeat from this season?

TM: It will definitely be better. That feeling that we had last Saturday (loss at Old Dominion), and coming back understanding that we don’t ever want to feel like that again. Just putting the work into this in the offseason to know what we’ve got to get done will help us out.

HB: What was your favorite moment from the 2021 season?

TM: Beating Duke. That was a great experience for us as a team. We’ve got a few opponents like that next year, so just having those moments against next year and knowing that we did it this year will help us out. The first ACC opponent on our home turf was one of the biggest moments. Rice was crazy, too. Did you see the flip?

HB: With some of the younger guys who got to play this season, who are some you expect to step up going into 2022?

TM: Doug Newsome for one, Jalar Holley and then Marcus Robitaille at the safety position. Those guys all stepped up this year and we’ll definitely need them next year if we want to get to where we want to get to. And Derek Boykins, he’s going to get his shot next year. They broke out this year and really showed us what they could do.

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