A redshirt junior, Shane Murray was the starting weak-side linebacker for Pittsburgh last fall and was poised to build on that first season until suffering a right knee strain Tuesday, Aug. 19, during the final training camp week. Murray missed the opening two games this season, but now he's ready to go.
"There's just some little things that I still have to get used to, like wearing a brace (on his right knee), but I'm good to run full speed ahead,'' Murray said. "And my sideways running is pretty quick, too, so I just have to get used to wearing the brace. But by the time Iowa gets here I'll be able to go.
"At first, I was a little concerned, when I tried to do some cutting, because I mostly was doing a lot of straight-ahead running. But once I started cutting more, it was all right. And I do feel pretty good right now.''
Murray officially called it an ACL strain in his right knee, and he hurt it in a drill where he planted to tackle fullback Conredge Collins. Murray's body turned on the play, but his leg stayed planted and the knee buckled a bit. The news actually was about as good as it could be for a knee injury, and after four weeks Murray is nearly at 100 percent.
"I've been here with Buddy every morning,'' Murray said. "He's been getting the rest of my muscles and the rest of my leg strong, and he's been doing a good job. So, I've been working hard every day to get it back to normal. ... It's just real hard when you're supposed to be out there, and you're not.
"It was even harder to watch, especially during the loss to Bowling Green, because you know there's nothing you can do about it. But Austin Ransom has done a good job, even though he was just moved to linebacker right before the (season). But he's a tough, hard-nosed kid, and he's a player for us. He stepped in and did a good job, and that's what we needed.''
Even if Murray starts, Ransom likely will split time with him against Iowa. And redshirt freshman Tristan Roberts will be waiting in the wings if needed.
"Shane has playing experience, and he can help us solidify some situations that we have at linebacker, concerning different packages that we have,'' Pitt linebackers coach Joe Tumpkin said. "So, he's a security blanket out there.
"We moved Austin in because he's a fifth-year senior and had some playing experience, so we just felt that in that situation -- going into the first game against Bowling Green -- it was to the best advantage of our football team.''
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has some concerns about thrusting Murray back into the action against a tough opponent like Iowa, but he's certainly happy to have the veteran back at his outside spot.
"Any time you have a returning starter back in the lineup and playing is good for the team, and we're optimistic that he'll be able to play,'' Wannstedt said. "He's practiced every day, and we've got three or four more days.
"So, we expect him to be in the mix. Just having a guy like that in the huddle is comforting to everybody. You're talking about a starter who is well-respected and has played well for us, so I know that just his presence on the practice field has been positive for his teammates. ... So, we're very optimistic.''
Murray actually believes that he's a better player than he was last season after watching the first two games from the sideline. It gave him a different perspective. And he's certainly much bigger now, bulked up to 225 pounds after playing much of last season at between 200-205.
"When you're out there, it seems like things happen a lot faster, but what I learned from the sideline is that you have to prepare mentally just as much as physically,'' Murray said. "You have to be able to know all the opposing offense's tendencies, things they do when they pass that are different from when they run, and everything else.
"So, it's been hard, but I've been trying to learn as much as possible from watching on the sideline. When you first get hurt, you always hope it's not too bad, but in the back of your mind you're wondering if you're going to be out for the season. And with the way it happened to me, I worked so hard during camp, but then I get hurt with two days to go in camp.
"So, that was tough,'' Murray added. "But I'm really progressing along, and the leg really hasn't given me any problems other than just a little swelling and stiffness. So, I have to keep working harder than ever, working on my technique and everything else to make sure my mental aspect of the game is better than before. ... Every morning I do balance drills to stabilize my knee, then add ice and stim, so I'm doing everything I can to get ready to play this week.''
And by all accounts, Murray will be a welcome addition to the Pitt defense.
Shane Murray Ready To Go
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