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Training Camp Question 7: Can Trent Murphy pick up where he left off in 2016?

This is the seventh of a series on 10 key questions facing the Buffalo Bills entering training camp. Read the rest of the questions here. 

Bills fans can rest assured that Trent Murphy is doing everything humanly possible to return to peak performance in his first year back from major knee surgery.

Murphy, the Bills’ defensive end signed as a free agent from Washington, is a workout fanatic, even by the high standards of world-class NFL athletes.

His apartment in Washington included a full workout gym, and he’s planning to have a similar setup in Buffalo. He spent about three months of his offseason in Columbus, Ohio, just because his favorite gym, Westside Barbell, is located there.

"There’s something about where you lay your head at night and being able to go into the next room and get work in any time you need it," Murphy said this spring. "To have the ability to outwork my opponents all the time even where I rest is a huge advantage. It feels like I have an edge that helps me play with confidence."

The Bills are counting on Murphy to fully recover from a knee injury that wiped out his 2017 season. He had surgery in August to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.

The 27-year-old was moving around just fine in individual drills in spring practice but was held out of most team work as a precaution.

“If he was a younger guy, we probably would have pushed him out there a little bit more,” General Manager Brandon Beane told reporters. “He’s a veteran. He’s done everything he’s supposed to do. He’s been here. He may have been here every day. I don’t know if he has perfect attendance or not. But he’s done everything. He was doing individual (drills) ...

"Why rush him out there for two weeks? If you take those two weeks and add five more to camp, that’s seven weeks to really get him going.”

Murphy will be almost 13 months removed from surgery when the Bills open their season in Baltimore on Sept. 9. How comfortable he looks in August will be an important thing to watch in training camp and the preseason.

"I’m expecting to make a great recovery and be there for the season and not miss a beat," Murphy said. "I think, if anything, I’ll be stronger than I was before. I feel good. I'm happy with where I'm at. I think they're extremely excited with where I'm at. So I think we'll be even more excited when I come back for camp."

It’s common for NFL players to bounce back from ACL surgery after a year of recovery. Adrian Peterson famously came back after only nine months and rushed for 2,000 yards in 2012. But Peterson is on the rare, high-performance end of the spectrum. It’s also common for players to say it takes a year of playing after a major injury before they feel just as comfortable as they were before the surgery. Every case is different.

The Bills desperately need a pass-rushing upgrade at left defensive end to complement right end Jerry Hughes. That’s why they invested $10.3 million in guaranteed money in Murphy, who had a breakout season in 2016 with nine sacks for the Redskins. Besides Washington, New England and Tampa Bay also showed strong interest in signing Murphy, so the Bills were far from the only optimists about Murphy’s future.

Like incumbent left end Shaq Lawson, Murphy isn’t a pure speed rusher. But he’s a solid technician with a good speed-to-power move and an exceptional motor.

"Trent has a tenacity that he plays with,” said Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. “It's just all-out energy down in and down out. His effort sometimes creates the sacks. Not always is it purely beating someone. He's an effort guy. Those guys they create problems for offenses, and that got us excited."

Another reason the Bills think Murphy is perfect for them is culture. He’s the kind of football-obsessed player coach Sean McDermott loves for the locker room.

"Kind of just that tough, blue-collar mentality, winning, playing together, just competing," Murphy said when he signed. "We’re just stirring up that culture and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it."

It’s probable Murphy will be eased into full-scale action when the Bills get to St. John Fisher College. Murphy knows that what happens in practice July 26 is not the focus. He needs to peak toward Sept. 9.

"I learn from guys like Kyle and Lorenzo who have done it for so long," he said of the spring practice approach of Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander. “When I was a younger athlete I was pedal-to-the-metal all the time. They work hard every day, but they're working hard the right way. That's the point of emphasis.”

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