NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A spirited start to training camp yielded to a somber Monday morning for Titans players, coaches, scouts and staff who learned about the tragic death of receiver O.J. Murdock.
Police in Tampa, Fla., found Murdock, an apparent victim of a self-inflicted gunshot, in his car and rushed him to a hospital, but he did not survive. Murdock was 25.
The news saddened and shocked the Titans' football family, especially Titans receiver Damian Williams and tight end Jared Cook, who knew Murdock not only as a teammate but as roommates at different points in their lives.
"I basically went out here and practiced for two today," Williams said. "It's sad he's not here. We love him, and thoughts go out to his family."
Murdock signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011 out of Fort Hays State, a Division II university in Kansas, but suffered an Achilles injury at the start of training camp last year. He rehabbed his injury this offseason, but was likely going to need more time before he could take the field. He had been living with Williams during the offseason program, but did not report to camp by Friday's deadline.
Williams and other Titans employees contacted Murdock Friday, and he said something personal came up but he planned to report to camp Sunday. Williams said he assumed it was a personal issue but didn't sense anything out of the ordinary.
Williams said Murdock "was always a happy, jolly guy, so when you hear the news about that today, it was definitely very shocking."
Cook knew Murdock from their time at South Carolina (2005-06 when both were redshirt freshmen) and said he was one of the best receivers on a campus that included future NFL receivers Sidney Rice and Kenny McKinley. Sadly, McKinley, who suffered a season-ending knee injury while with the Broncos in 2009, committed suicide in September 2010.
"It's real weird because me, Kenny (McKinley), O.J. and Sidney Rice were all roommates the second year there," Cook said. "I just hate to hear about it, and it's a horrible thing."
Cook stayed in touch with Murdock, who left South Carolina and transferred to Pearl River (Poplarville, Miss.) Community College in 2007 for his sophomore season. Cook said he and Murdock reconnected once Murdock signed with the Titans.
"He seemed in good spirits when he left," Cook said. "I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, and everything seemed fine."
Titans general manager Ruston Webster worked for Tampa Bay when Murdock was a high school star in that area and remembered when Murdock signed with South Carolina.
"He was a talented guy, who we felt like when we signed him would have a chance (to make the team) because he did have some skills," Webster said. "We felt good about O.J. I remember him from when he was a high school player. He is a talented young man, and this is just awful news."
Webster and Titans coach Mike Munchak sounded similar to fathers coping with the loss of a son as they explained the information they have received on a situation that seems unexplainable.
"It's very tough for us as a team and just as a human being in general when you lose somebody at the age of 25 and with their life in front of them as O.J.'s was," Webster said. "It's very difficult."
Munchak, who is preparing for his second season as head coach, said there is no way to prepare for that kind of news.
"It's a phone call you never want to get," Munchak said. "It's something that as a head coach you never think you will stand in front of your team and have to give them that type of news. I think everyone was shocked by it, and we weren't aware of any issues going on."
Munchak said the Titans offered grief counseling and will continue to do so for anyone who can benefit from it.
"We have a few people here that our players can chat with," Munchak said. "Having our team chaplain (Reggie Pleasant) here and talking with other players seems to be helpful. I think we will reach out to each other and reach out to a friend; we will just have to judge over these next few days. It may not be something that hits someone today but maybe a few days from now. You want them to know that they are not alone. We are a family and we are together. If something is bothering them, they can come talk to anybody. I'm sure we have people that will be here if there are players that need more than that."
Meanwhile, the team did its best to continue with training camp. Titans players wore shoulder pads for the first time on Monday afternoon, but their hearts were what hurt the most.
"When you're missing part of your family, it's always hard to focus, but at the same time, he would want us to come out here and (do well)," Williams said. "That's his personality. That's who he was, and that being said, that's what we've got to do. He wouldn't want us sulking about it."