Monday, August 18, 2008

49ers' Morgan catching on quickly

It’s a little early to reserve a spot for 49ers rookie wide receiver Josh Morgan in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it’s not too early for me to make a semi-bold statement after watching him Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers at Monster Park: He’s the best wide receiver the 49ers have drafted since taking Terrell Owens in 1996 in the third round.

Morgan, a sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech, leads the team with nine catches for 182 yards and one touchdown through two exhibition games. He debuted with a four-catch, 68-yard game against the Oakland Raiders. Then he backed that up by catching five passes for 114 yards in a 34-6 win over Green Bay.

Morgan has already flashed more potential than any of the 11 receivers the 49ers drafted since taking Owens. Make that 12 if you count Iheanyi Uwaezuoke, a fifth-round pick in 1999 out of Cal.

The rest of the list, in chronological order: Ryan Thelwell (7th round, 1998), Tai Streets, (6th, 1999), Cedrick Wilson (6th, 2001), Brandon Lloyd (4th, 2003), Arnaz Battle (6th, 2003), Rashaun Woods (1st, 2004), Derrick Hamilton (3rd, 2004), Rasheed Marshall (5th, 2005), Marcus Maxwell (7th, 2005), Brandon Williams (3rd, 2006) and Jason Hill (3rd, 2007).

Of those, only Battle and Hill are still with the team.
This is a franchise that was once known for its wide receivers, from Dwight Clark to John Taylor, Owens and the great Jerry Rice, arguably the greatest receiver in NFL history.

The 49ers have been searching in vain for years for their next big-time receiver. Maybe Morgan will turn out to be that guy. If so, he’ll go down as one of the biggest draft-day steals in franchise history.
Morgan dropped in the draft in large part because of a brush with the law at Virginia Tech. He wound up getting pepper sprayed and arrested but served no jail time.

So despite catching 122 passes during his college career, Morgan lasted until the 174th pick. So far, Morgan has been a model citizen, off and on the field, where he’s a big (6-foot, 219 pounds), fast receiver with hands that appear to be covered glue.

Against Green Bay, he beat man-to-man coverage, made a nice adjustment and grabbed a 59-yard touchdown pass from J.T. O’Sullivan.
Veteran wideouts Bryant Johnson, Ashley Lelie and Battle have all missed time with injuries. Morgan has stepped into the starting lineup and taken full advantage. Those vets might not want to miss any more time or Morgan just might never let go of the starting job.

I talked to Morgan after the game in the 49ers’ locker room. Here’s some of what he had to say:

Q: How important was it for you to have back-to-back big games? Is that important to confirm that the first time was real?
A: “Yes sir. That’s very important. You want to stay consistent out there. That’s what my coach gets on me for a lot, about staying consistent. Just basically keeping your production level up, playing the same way every play. I feel that it’s very important to have a game like this after the first game so you know, yeah I’m here. I’m just trying to go out there and make all the plays I can, do everything coach tells me and is teaching me to do. Just get better, continue getting better. It’s a great learning experience for me. I’m just trying to take full advantage of it.”

Q: On the touchdown, did you sense early it was man coverage and that you had a shot to run by that guy?
A: “Yeah. (Offensive coordinator) Mike Martz, you’ve got to give it to him. He’s a great offensive coordinator. He noticed the defense. He just gave me a shot. The quarterback made a great throw. I just went to go get it and try to make a play.”

Q: That was a called play, he called a play that featured you?
A: “Yeah. I was telling Isaac Bruce earlier. I said, ‘Every time I see coach Martz, I think he’s thinking of a play.’ He noticed the defense they were playing, and he made a perfect call. That’s just the type of guy he is.”

Q: Do you think you’re making a push to be a starter? Some guys are hurt, but you’re taking advantage of the opportunity.
A: “I’m not so sure about that. I’m just out here trying to make plays and take full advantage of my experience. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m just a rookie, and I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m going to keep on working and getting better and learning from the guys.”

Q: In this offense a lot of guys get opportunities. You don’t have to be one of the top two receivers do you?. The third guy will get a lot of chances.
A: “The third guy, the fourth guy, even the fifth guy might come in and get an opportunity. You never know, the way coach Martz has been throwing that ball. I’ve just been trying to take full advantage of it. You’ve got guys like Isaac Bruce, who’s been in the league 15 years. Bryant Johnson has been in the league a while. Ashley Lelie. When you’ve got all those guys teaching me something, you can’t do nothing but be a sponge and soak it all up.”

Q: Getting drafted in the sixth round, do you have a little chip on your shoulder driving you?
A: “You most definitely got a chip on your shoulder. But you use it to stay level and stay humble and keep working, keep working hard every day, thank God for the blessing he gave you. Sixth round, that was kind of low. I could have slipped and ended up not getting drafted. But God gave me the blessing to get drafted and get drafted by the team that I loved watching as a kid. That’s just a blessing.”

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