TAMPA — Adrian Peterson, Jordy Nelson and Tommie Davis all told Louis Murphy the same thing. That he was in for the fight of his life. What they didn’t tell him was how the fight would threaten to break him.
That’s what a torn ACL will do to you. It’ll push you to the breaking point, to a place where you start wondering if you’ve got any fight left in you. That’s what it did to Murphy anyway.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about retiring,’’ the Buccaneers eighth-year wide receiver said. “Those thoughts definitely came in to my mind. I was like, ‘Do I really want to keep doing this?’”
“That’s how tough it was. I mean, this thing really tested me. But through it all I just kept saying to myself, ‘I want to leave this game on my terms – my terms.’ That’s what kept me going.’’
The game is back on Murphy’s terms, his career back in his hands. Almost a year to the day after he blew out his right knee in a win at Washington last season, Murphy returned to practice on Monday.
To say he was anxious to get back would be an understatement. While most of his Buccaneers teammates spent the bye week relaxing, Murphy spent his in a constant state of restless anticipation.
“I couldn’t sleep all week,’’ Murphy said. “I was just itching the whole time for Monday to come. I didn’t get much sleep (Sunday) night either. I just couldn’t wait to get back out here.’’
It’s not like Murphy ever really left. He did all his grueling rehab work in Tampa, and he’s been on the field regularly since the start of training camp, taking what he calls “mental reps.’’
“Every day I was out there watching practice I was thinking about where I would be on that particular play,’’ he said. “And I’d switch it up. I’d be at X one day, Z the next, F the day after that.’’
Those mental reps may soon come in handy. After all, a lot has changed within the Buccaneers receiving corps since Murphy was placed in injured following a Week 7 win over Washington last year.
Most significantly, the slot receiver position that was once his now belongs primarily to Adam Humphries, and there’s nothing to suggest that Murphy is going to take it away from him.
Humphries ranks second on the Buccaneers behind Mike Evans in targets (31), receptions (20) and receiving yards (216) this year and his role in the offense only figures to expand as the season goes on.
That doesn’t necessarily leave Murphy out in the cold, though. The Buccaneers are a bit top-heavy at the receiver spot, where Evans, Vincent Jackson and Humphries give them a solid and potentially spectacular top three.
The group thins out rather quickly after that, though, particularly in terms of experience, which is why the Buccaneers felt a need to grab Cecil Shorts off waivers just before the start of the season.
Shorts, who is also ready to return after missing the past three games with a hamstring strain, and now Murphy provide a solution to that experience issue, perhaps even another.
Jackson has not played at anything close to the Pro Bowl level he’s displayed in the past and he missed practice on Monday, which may be an indication he’s going to miss some time with an injury.
If that proves to be the case, the Bucs might fill the void with a speed receiver capable of taking the top off the defense, and they have one of those on their practice squad in Donteea Dye, who replaced Murphy when he went down last year.
But with quarterback Jameis Winston struggling as well through the early going, at least in terms of decision making, the Buccaneers might be better off just giving those snaps to a veteran like Murphy.
“I’m willing to do whatever they ask of me,’’ Murphy said. “I just want to play my role, do what I can and help this team out because we can really be a good team. In fact, I think we can be a great team.’’
That’s the other thing that motivated Murphy to keep pushing through his rehab when he wasn’t sure he could push himself anymore: the promise of what may lie ahead for the Buccaneers.
Murphy has never played for a playoff team before. In seven years in the NFL he’s never even been on a winning team, the 8-8 Oakland clubs he played for in 2010 and 2011 being the closest he’s come.
Despite their 2-3 start, Murphy believes he has a chance to break that losing streak with the Buccaneers, if not this year, then maybe next. He didn’t want to abandon that opportunity.
“I see how much potential we have to be great with all the young guys we have in this locker room playing really well and I want to be a part of that,’’ he said. “I want to be a leader by example for those guys.
“But I can’t do that by retiring. I can’t let the team down like that. So I knew I had to give it my best shot, because this (injury) was no way for me to go out, That’s what my dad kept telling me.”
“He and I talked almost every day during my rehab and he was the one who put that thought in my head. He was the one telling me you want to go out on your terms and he was right. I want it to be on my terms and now it can be.’’