The improved play of the 6-2, 273-pound redshirt junior has been noticeable through the first 11 spring practices. Murphy has improved his pass rush and is playing tougher against the run. Those developments have definitely not escaped the attention of defensive tackles coach Don Dunn.
"We have really been pleased with the way Dexter is playing," Dunn says. "He is having by far his best spring and he is actually pushing Spencer Johnson for playing time, which is what we want to happen. That will make Spencer a better player and give us some much needed depth."
Dunn says there has never been a question about Murphy's work ethic or desire to be good, however, there have been problems that have kept the defensive lineman on the bench.
When he first arrived on campus in August of 1999 from LaGrange, Ga., High where he was a offensive guard and defensive lineman, Murphy was undersized and needed a year in the weight room. He was manhandled by 300-pound linemen like Kendall Simmons and Mike Pucillo in practices.
"I only weighed about 230 to 235 pounds when I got here," he says. "I have been steadily gaining weight. Last year I was 265 pounds. Right now I am up to 273, but I am still trying to gain five more pounds."
Lack of size wasn't the only thing holding him back. Murphy has battled nagging injuries the past three seasons, but last year was particularly nasty. A shoulder injury, which he still ices after practice, set him back. So did broken bones in both wrists. However, he played through all of the problems and saw action in all 12 games as a defensive tackle. He made just five tackles, but that total is expected to increase significantly this fall.
"Well, you know, injuries are part of football," Murphy says while applying a bag of ice to his shoulder. "I wasn't as healthy as I wanted to be last season, but I was able to push through it. The injuries are still bothering me a little bit, but I think this season I'll be alright."
Dexter Murphy (91) and Danny Lindsey (68) compete in a drill.
With four more spring practice sessions to go, including the April 6th A-Day Game (1 p.m. kickoff), Murphy has reason to be optimistic. "So far spring practice is going pretty good," he says. "The guys are starting to get the swing of the defense. My goals personally are to get the defense down pat, and, you know, stay healthy and just come out of spring being able to contribute some kind of way in the fall.
"So far, so good this spring," he adds. "I think there are some things I can improve on. You know, I'm one of the older guys so I think it is time for me to step up and be more of a leader, but I've still got things I can work on."
When asked what improvements he would like to make, Murphy says, "I need to be able to put on about five more pounds so I can be able to hold the double-team block down on the runs or whatever, but that's probably my main goal right now, the weapon I need to work on the most." In 2000 as a redshirt freshman, he weighed in the 250s. He has continued to add size. "I was probably around 265 last season so I have grown a little bit."
Murphy says he likes the 4-3 defense the Tigers are running this year installed this spring by new coordinator Gene Chizik. "It is helping me out more because I play more of a three technique," he says. "I don't have to take on as many double-team blocks as I did last year and I think that is better for me."
Quickness has been Murphy's strong suit in college and the new defense should take advantage of that. "I'm not as pushed down on the inside. I am outside more than I was last year and I have a little more freedom."
For most of the spring, a defense that features experienced players at linebacker and in the secondary has dominated the offense in head to head meetings in practices and scrimmages. "I think our starting lineup is pretty solidified," Murphy says. "You know, we're still waiting on (tackle) DeMarco McNeil to get back. And I think he's going to hold our defense together. By just by looking at our defense so far, I think we have got the potential to be the best in the SEC."
The Tigers are short in numbers at defensive end and Murphy is a player who has lined up there. However, he says that he believes he has found a home and does not expect to be moved. "I'm pretty sure I'm a tackle right now," the junior says. "But maybe during two-a-days, if they look at film and they think I can help the team out more at end they will move me. I won't have a problem with that."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Auburn is recruiting another prospect from the LaGrange area for the 2003 signee class. Avery Hannibal, a 6-1, 230-pound defensive end and tight end from Troup County High School was on the Auburn campus for the Tigers' second major scrimmage of spring training. Another Georgia defensive line prospect at that same scrimmage is a big one. Cedric Boone is a 6-3, 290-pound tackle from 2001 state champion Americus High School.