- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. – When Aaron Murray says he intends to participate in Georgia's pro day before the NFL draft, consider the source.
In April, he'll be about five months removed from surgery to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament when he and his fellow draft prospects take the field before a horde of scouts, coaches and front office reps. While that might seem like a quick return, this is the same player who broke his leg in a mid-October game as a high school senior, only to return for his team's final two playoff victories in a state championship run.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Murray expects to be close to full health by pro day and to be at 100 percent by the time his future NFL team opens training camp.
“My goal right now is to get healthy,” Murray said Friday. “That's the biggest thing, is get healthy to be able to go out there and do as much as I can for pro day and show the teams that I'm on the right track right now to recovery, and go from there.”
Murray will not be able to compete alongside fellow quarterback prospects in the valuable week of practices leading up to the Jan. 25 Senior Bowl – Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Fresno State's Derek Carr have accepted invitations to the all-star game – and he will likely miss the Feb. 23 quarterback workouts at the NFL combine. However, he will still enjoy the opportunity to participate in the face-to-face meetings that take place at those events as teams begin to set their draft boards.
“I don't know how much I'm going to be able to do physically, but [he will] go up there and meet with people, talk, get on the board, do that kind of stuff,” he said.
Prospects can help – or hurt – their stock with their performances in all-star games and the combine, but Murray hopes he is somewhat insulated from taking a draft hit. After all, he tied Georgia's record for nonkickers by starting 52 games – every game of his college career up until the finale against Georgia Tech – so there is no shortage of film on which to judge his progression as a quarterback.
“I think what my film shows is I have improved over my four years,” said Murray, who holds SEC career records for completions (921), passing yards (13,166), touchdown passes (121) and total offense (13,562 yards). “I think I've improved from my freshman year to sophomore year, sophomore year to junior year and definitely a big jump from last year to this year. I feel like I've definitely improved and obviously they'll see that on film.
“So how much it'll hurt me, how much it won't hurt me that I won't be able to compete at the Senior Bowl and combine, I don't know. But it is great that I do have four years of film for them to watch.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said Thursday at a news conference previewing the Jan. 1 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl that he doesn't think Murray's injury will affect his draft stock much. He used as an example former Georgia receiver Marlon Brown, who tore his ACL last season.
“He's a rookie in the NFL and he had an ACL last year in his senior year, which seemed bad, but he made the [Baltimore Ravens roster] and now he's tied for first place for the most touchdown catches as a rookie in the NFL,” Richt said. “Guys recover very well from ACLs. I think people understand that, and I think when they see how far along he is by the time the draft rolls around, I hope that it won't hurt him.”
Murray said he initially planned to work out at a pre-draft training facility, but now will stay at Georgia and work with director of sports medicine Ron Courson's staff as he continues to recover from the injury. The medical staff has told him that he should be able to do quarterback drops and rollouts and even run the 40-yard dash at pro day if he chooses to do so.
As for the way his career ended, Murray joked about wanting to play one more snap against Nebraska in the bowl game so his college career didn't end with a second-quarter interception against Kentucky. Murray said he knew he had probably torn his ACL on a 28-yard run that came 13 snaps before his final play – “I felt and heard the pop,” Murray said – but he stayed in to complete that drive with a touchdown. He had led Georgia into the red zone again on the next drive before taking an awkward hit from Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith on his final play.
“The pain was just unbearable at that point when he spun me around,” Murray said.
Georgia trainers immediately carried Murray into the locker room after the play, denying him the happy sendoff that he might have imagined.
He's taking a philosophical approach toward that exit, however, saying that perhaps the open-ended nature of his departure could be a positive thing.
“Obviously I had a vision of how I wanted to go out,” he said. “I was thinking about it and it's almost like I didn't say goodbye, which I guess is a good thing. I guess it's like, 'to be continued.' I'm not leaving. I'm always a Bulldog, I'll always be a Bulldog and I guess if I would have been there to wave and really cherish the end of it, that would have been like, 'Book closed, it's over,' and I feel like it's not over for me.
“I'm always a Bulldog. I'll be coming back here the rest of my life to watch games and give input and advice to the younger guys throughout the years.”