Wideout Morgan looks like good 6th-round catch
Niners have renewed interest in signing free-agent LB Spikes
Manny Lawson - Patrick Willis - Takeo Spikes - Justin Smith
Said this the whole offseason but would be nice to add him to the mix...
Just sign the guy already...
Tom FitzGerald, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2008
The first of the 49ers' draft picks to sign this year, wide receiver Josh Morgan also was the first to make a big impression in training camp and the first to do it in a preseason game. From the start he was a good bet to make the 53-man roster. Now he's pushing for playing time at a crowded position.
While he was being interviewed the other day, running back Frank Gore tapped the reporter on the shoulder and a.ssured him the 23-year-old "is going to be a beast."
He's not content to be an average prospect; he wants to excel. He's willing to mix it up with defenders to do it.
"He's got the body (6-foot, 219 pounds), the speed (4.47 in the 40) and the ability to be an NFL receiver," 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan said. "He's got to learn the offense and all the little intricacies that go with it."
Morgan - up against the likes of holdovers Ashley Lelie and Jason Hill and several new faces for backup spots on the roster - looked right at home when the 49ers opened the exhibition season against the Raiders on Friday night. His play - four catches for 68 yards in the first half - was one of the few offensive bright spots for the 49ers.
"He's been outstanding," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "We're really pleased with him. We grind him pretty good. I don't think he thinks he's doing that good, but he's done a remarkable job."
Morgan agreed, "I am pretty hard on myself. That's what you've got to do to keep playing. You've got to be your worst critic."
When you look at him on the practice field, you wonder why he lasted until the sixth round. He was the 24th wide receiver taken in a year when none were chosen in the first round. His hometown Washington Redskins picked two other wideouts ahead of him.
Morgan ranked second in Virginia Tech history with 122 career receptions. Still, another Hokies receiver was picked before him, Eddie Royal by the Denver Broncos in the second round.
Morgan is convinced a brush with the law a year ago dropped him a few rounds. Such problems are not uncommon with NFL prospects. The competition, though, is so tight that the slightest blemish, especially in the amorphous category of "character," can be significant.
His arrest on Sept. 24, 2006, on charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing justice "definitely cost me a higher pick," he said. "I think I'm as good as, if not better, than the receivers that went ahead of me."
He admits the 2 a.m. incident in downtown Blacksburg, Va., especially as it was first reported, "didn't look good at all." A police officer said Morgan punched the driver's-side window of a passing truck and attempted to open the door. When police tried to arrest him, he resisted and was subdued with pepper spray.
Teammate Chris Ellis also was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and obstructing justice. Both players were suspended for a game.
"It was a big misunderstanding," Morgan said last week. "What happened was I was crossing the street coming out of a club. As I was crossing the street, a guy - I guess it was a drunk driver - almost hit me with his truck. I had to jump out of the way. ... It escalated from there."
In court, the arresting officer spoke on the players' behalf. As a result, the judge didn't order jail time, but both players were ordered to do community service, take anger-management counseling and spend a year on probation.
"I think I'm a pretty good judge of character," Sullivan said. "If I left town for six months, I'd let him move into my house and wouldn't worry about one thing."
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer told The Chronicle he'd vouch for Morgan, too. "He's a great kid and a terrific player," he said.
Morgan is unfailingly polite, to the point that you marvel at the toughness and resilience it took for him to survive his tough neighborhood in Washington, D.C., where shootings and drug dealings were common. He says he was lucky to have "a great support system" in his extended family.
"I lost a lot of friends to gun violence and things like that," he said. "The summer before my junior year at Virginia Tech, I was home for six weeks, and I lost a friend every week I was home."
There was profound tragedy at his university campus, as well, when a 23-year-old South Korean named Seung-Hui Cho went on a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, k!lling 32 people and wounding many others before committing suicide.
Morgan was in a nearby building in an accounting class. "It was the first time I'd heard gunshots at Virginia Tech," he said. "My first instinct, especially being from D.C., was 'get out of there as quick as you can.' "
He was acquainted with three of the victims. During the ensuing weeks, he said, the football team gave the university community a welcome respite as it tried to recover from the massacre.
"They compared us to what the New Orleans Saints did for Katrina (victims)," he said. "The games gave people a chance to get out and be happy. It was so depressing after the shooting. The whole campus was in shock. Everywhere you went, people were crying."
A year later, his life took a huge turn upward. He was drafted by the team he had rooted for as a kid, to the distress of his father, an ardent Redskins fan. Young Morgan loved watching Jerry Rice catching passes from Steve Young in the 1990s.
"That's what was exciting to me," he said, "every time Jerry Rice went out, he was getting wide open, or making great catches crossing the middle."
Now the youngster is trying to follow the same triumphant path.
College: Virginia Tech
Friday's game: Caught four passes against the Raiders for 68 yards
College career: Caught 122 passes for 1,817 yards and 16 TDs for the Hokies, including career highs of 46 catches and five TDs as a senior
E-mail Tom FitzGerald at .
This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle