|Second-year defensive end |
NASHVILLE, Tenn.. -- Something was wrong, and Derrick Morgan could feel it.
The Titans’ second-year defensive end felt an irritating pain in his surgically repaired knee. Morgan took a deep breath this preseason and braced for the worst.
An exam and procedure on a dislodged stitch from last year’s ACL surgery, however, revealed it was not going to be as bad as he originally feared. His second season would not be lost like his rookie campaign when an ACL tear in the fourth week ended his season prematurely.
Morgan missed the season-opener at Jacksonville but has played each game since.
“I was just getting my confidence back and getting back in the swing of things,” Morgan said. “I’m glad it happened when it did to get it out of the way. I didn’t want to go through a couple of games in the season and have to get something done to my knee again. I’m glad that it happened when it did, we took care of it and everything feels good.”
New Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said Morgan was understandably frustrated when his knee flared up in the preseason because Morgan loves to be on the field.
“He was coming off the injury and had a minor setback there and I think when the minor setback came he kind of got frustrated,” Rocker said. “Once he got over it, he was a totally different person.”
Morgan returned from the procedure in Week 2 and helped the Titans defeat Baltimore and Denver at home and Cleveland on the road. He recorded sacks against Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and Browns QB Colt McCoy and registered six quarterback pressures in his first five games back.
Morgan also made the most important tackle of his young career when he stuffed Broncos running back Willis McGahee for a 1-yard loss on a fourth-and-goal play. The stop prevented Denver from building its lead in the fourth quarter and transferred momentum to Tennessee for a come-from-behind victory.
Morgan, the Titans’ first-round draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, deflected credit for that tackle, saying it was just the result of the defensive unit doing what it needed to do.
“My goal was to try to get as much penetration as I could and push everybody back,” Morgan said. “Our interior guys did that —
The key stop was also significant psychologically because it occurred against the same team that Morgan had injured his knee against in 2010. It effectively ended the most adverse chapter of Morgan’s football career.
“It was something new for me,” Morgan said. “I had never really been hurt before in my career. It was difficult to try to embrace the mental aspect of the game (without the physical component), along with the rehab. It was a tough process, but I think it made me better at the end of the day to overcome that and be where I’m at right now.
“You can’t dwell on it. I had the initial shock,” Morgan recalled. “I was hurt. I was going to be out of it for a while, but after that, it was back to the grind and trying to get back as soon as I could. My mindset was just to work.”
Rocker said he considers Morgan to be a rookie this season. He credited Morgan’s approach and efforts on the practice field with his continued development.
“The thing that I enjoy is each week he’s gotten better at competing and practicing and now you see in the games, he’s starting to make things happen. I think when you’re coming off an injury, you’re trying to get your rhythm back and that’s been a plus. On game day, what I love is that you have no question that he’s ready to go. You know he’s ready to go.”
Nothing is a better reinforcement tool, Rocker said, than delivering a big play on Sundays like the “big stop” against the Broncos.
“I think that really made him gain more confidence in his play. A lot of times in this game, you’ve got to make tackles. You had a sack coming against Baltimore. I think he started feeling his confidence coming back. It goes back to he did it in practice, and that’s my selling point every week. What you do in practice is what you’re going to do on game day.”
Morgan’s confidence in his body builds on each repetition in practice and with every snap in games. The trust and faith that he’s developing will help his explosiveness to make big plays and solidify his presence on every play.
“For him to stay explosive, you’ve got to know exactly what you’re doing,” Rocker said. “I think that’s a plus: he knows now exactly what he’s doing.”
Morgan is also developing his one-on-one pass rush moves that he didn’t have many opportunities to perfect last season because of the injury. He’s learning what works against which offensive linemen and building a database of information.
“I try to carry a couple of moves into every game,” Morgan said. “That’s what I work on. Each week I may have two or three moves that I focus on because that’s what I think are going to work, and I feel comfortable doing that.”
Rocker encourages Morgan to learn what he does best and not be shy about doing it as often as possible.
“He’s always talking, ‘What move should I do?’ Well, when you go on a date, are you going to do a bunch of dances or the dance you best know how to do? That’s my selling point,” Rocker said.
While the technique continues to be a growth opportunity for Morgan, Rocker said he knows, without a doubt, that he can count on Morgan for intensity in practice and games.
“I like being around him because he’s learning how to be a pro, but I love his intensity in practice,” Rocker said.