The Tennessee Titans did not exactly look the other way when wide receiver O.J. Murdock did not report for the start of training camp last Friday.
They also certainly did not see any signs to indicate what happened Monday.
Murdock, 25, was found critically injured inside his car, which was parked in front of a Tampa high school. He died a short time later from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“We were concerned initially when O.J. didn’t report on [Friday],” general manager Ruston Webster said. “We were able to make contact with him. He assured us everything was OK and he would be here on Sunday. He didn’t make it in on Sunday.”
A highly recruited prospect out of high school, Murdock ended up on the road less traveled throughout his college career. Then he got off on the wrong foot in his attempt to make it to the NFL.
Still those who knew him best said they had no idea about any issues extreme enough to make him want to take his own life, let alone follow through and do so.
“He’s been staying at my house probably since … whenever we got back [for the start of offseason conditioning],” third-year wide receiver Damian Williams said. “It’s tough. He was always a happy guy. Played around a lot. Always with a smile on his face.
“I definitely didn’t see it coming. I talked to him on Friday night. He told me that he was doing all right and that he would be here Sunday.”
Murdock signed as a free agent with the Titans following the 2011 draft but sustained a torn Achilles tendon on the second day of training camp. He spent the season in injured reserve and additional health concerns figured to keep him off the practice field for the opening days of this year’s camp.
Thus, no one was particularly worried when he failed to show for the start of training camp.
“[He was] someone that has been here a year now, even though he got hurt right away and he wasn’t here during the season because he was back home rehabbing,” coach Mike Munchak said. “Some, especially in the receiving room and the receiving coach, those guys have all been together quite a bit, and when you are on a team, you are on a team. You are part of it even though you are not necessarily playing on Sunday or practicing with an injury.”
Well-known for his speed and playmaking ability during his high school career in Tampa, he signed with South Carolina and coach Steve Spurrier in 2005.
After a redshirt season, he played four games in 2006 before he was dismissed as a result of a charge for grand theft. That led him to play one season in junior college and two more at Division II Fort Hays State.
“I was living in Tampa when he was a high school player, so I remember him as a high school player,” Webster said. “He was a great high school player there and when he signed with South Carolina, that was a big deal. He was a talented guy who we felt like when we signed him would have a chance because he did have some skills.”
Things might not have gone as planned in recent years, but its likely no one who knew him then or in recent years figured his life would end as it did.
“I talked to him about two weeks ago and everything seemed fine,” tight end Jared Cook, a roommate of Murdock’s at South Carolina said. “You just don’t see things like this coming.
“He was one of the best receivers that came in in our class. He was highly thought of. He was a silly guy. He was awesome. O.J., he was an awesome dude. He really was.”
• Wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins left Monday afternoon’s workout with what Munchak called a ‘foot injury.’ His status for the coming days was not immediately known.
The Titans already were without two other wide receivers, Kenny Britt (knee injury) and Kendall Wright (contract negotiations), not to mention Murdock.
“We had one less receiver; we were doing a lot of three-wide receiver stuff,” Munchak said.