Trent Murphy has never been about being normal or average, so it made sense that his breakout season in the National Football League came in unique fashion.
No. 93 was tasked in the offseason with a move from outside linebacker down to defensive end. The Stanford product embraced the challenge and packed on more than 30 pounds over the spring and summer. However, the linebacker room needed Trent when Junior Galette went down with a torn achilles.
Head coach Jay Gruden looked to Trent to fill the void, and when he cut back down to OLB size, he looked better than ever. The results: a career-best nine sacks, good for No. 2 on the Washington Redskins, behind only Ryan Kerrigan. He forced three fumbles as well, doubling his career total. He finished tied for 18th in the league with his nine sacks, helping D.C finish in a tie for ninth in the league with 38 sacks.
Trent embraced the sudden development and thrived as an OLB. Working within a rotation that featured talented rushers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, Murphy compiled a six-week sack streak that began with an explanation point in Dallas on September 18, where he sacked dynamic rookie QB Dak Prescott twice.
Murphy also compiled 22 total tackles and forced three fumbles during the stretch, establishing himself as a breakthrough star not only on his team, but among all NFL players. It took him just three weeks to tie his previous season-high sack total, and four to break it.
“It’s just clicking, really” Trent said of his production. “Taking a little bit more attention to detail in my preparation, and that stuff gives me the confidence on gameday to help it translate.”
What was more important to No. 93 than his personal successes were his team’s improvements, however—after stumbling out to an 0-2 start, the Redskins rebounded for four straight victories during Trent’s impressive sack streak—but he wasn’t satisfied.
“I feel like we left a lot of plays out there” said Murphy after a victory over the Cleveland Browns. “The win is always the ultimate goal, but I think as a team and individually we still have got to get a lot better.”
The Redskins took a franchise-first journey across the Atlantic this season to play Washington’s first contest outside of U.S. soil, at the historic Wembley Stadium. Trent recorded three solo tackles against the Cincinnati Bengals, but when both regulation and overtime expired, the score stood as a rare draw—a fitting ending for a London matchup, perhaps—but for Washington, however, a tie was not the desired outcome.
:I don’t know how to react,” Gruden said. “I’ve never tied before. I don’t know what to say, congratulations or to yell at ‘em.”
Following the draw in England, Trent and the Redskins faced two solid opponents in the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers as part of their series with the hard-nosed NFC North division. Washington dispatched the Vikings, who began their season 5-0, 26-20, featuring Trent’s seventh sack of the season against veteran QB Sam Bradford.
The following Sunday, the Redskins traveled to Green Bay to face the squad that bounced them from last season’s divisional playoffs. Washington responded with a 42-24 drubbing of the Packers in primetime on Sunday Night Football. Trent recorded a tackle for loss while the Redskin defense tormented All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers, notching two sacks and five QB hurries on the evening. The Redskins players felt they had exercised some of the lingering demons from the prior season.
“We certainly had a sour taste in our mouths walking away from the game last season,” said QB Kirk Cousins. “When you watch the film, we felt like there were plays there to be made that didn’t get made. I think tonight you saw what we felt we were capable of doing last January and just didn’t get it done.”
Following the victory over Green Bay, Washington suffered consecutive single-possession losses to Dallas and Arizona. The two defeats came as Washington played three games in eleven days—and the wear-and-tear on Trent and his teammates was noticeable.
“We stuck together. Had some adversity, we came fighting through it. We just didn’t make enough plays when it’s all said and done and they did,” said Coach Gruden. “We had three games in eleven days. These are physical football games… this is a physical game.”
The Arizona Cardinals welcomed the Redskins on Dec. 4, a game which represented a homecoming for Phoenix native Trent Murphy. No. 93 reserved more than 30 tickets for friends and family members, but on Sunday, he was all business.
“It’s awesome to go back. All of my family’s from there. It’s a big home welcoming for me,” Trent said. “Gameday is a different vibe for me. It’s the one day I can lock everything out, turn my phone off and lock in.”
Trent recorded a sack, but his team fell. Following the contest, No. 93 was disappointed with the loss—but believed his team had more in the tank.
“I think anytime we lose we’re underachieving,” he said. “I think the talent and potential that we have in the locker room when we’re playing together and playing hot, I mean I don’t know if there’s a team we can’t beat when we’re playing well. So, it’s frustrating when we come away with a loss.”
The Redskins finished out their last six games of the 2016 season with a 2-4 record—a mark that was not satisfying to any of the Washington players or coaches. While the team played impressively at stretches, the failed to reach their ultimate goal of securing a playoff berth and giving themselves a chance to make a postseason run.
Despite their struggles, Washington was faced with a win-and-you’re-in scenario in Week 17. Having found themselves in a similar scenario during the 2015 campaign, the Redskins liked their chances. However, the team came up just short in the season finale after trailing by a single score into the fourth quarter, and lost at home by a score of 19-10.
Despite narrowly missing postseason play, there are many positives to be taken from the season. Murphy recorded a career-high 47 tackles in addition to career-highs in sacks and forced fumbles. He solidified an elite group of outside backers and edge rushers.
“It’s huge,” Kerrigan said of the importance of the OLB rotation. “I think it’s allowed all of us to stay fresher and healthier as the season’s gone on. Not just in-game, but also for the following weeks because we’re taking some reps off each other.”
Coach Gruden sung No. 93’s praises as well.
“Defensively, you look at guys like Trent Murphy and [Bashaud] Breeland and Josh Norman obviously coming here has been a big time help. A lot of these guys that have come in here and bought into the system, and just come in here prepared,” Gruden said. “It’s just been fun to watch [these guys] grow within the program. I think that’s what’s going to make us successful for a long time.”
Washington finished at 8-7-1. While they avoided a losing record, Gruden was realistic about the season and his plans for the future.
“Anytime you end your season after the seventeenth week, there’s got a lot of work to do,” said coach Jay Gruden. “It’s not good enough. The standards are set high around here, and we didn’t reach any of them. Other than getting a winning season was one of our goals that we wanted, other than that, we failed on a lot of accounts. We’ve got to coach better and play better, and turn the page and try to do some better things.”