Tennessee Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (center) and free safety George Wilson pursue New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan during last Friday’s preseason game in New Orleans.
METAIRIE, La. — Joe Morgan has a knack for the spectacular that’s tough for coaches to ignore.
That was how the receiver first made the New Orleans Saints’ roster as a little-known, undrafted free agent out of Division II Walsh University in 2011.
Now, with his career in the balance as he comes back from knee surgery that cost him all of last season, he’s starting to exhibit his big-play potential again.
“I’ve got to do things to help me stand out and make this team,” Morgan said after practice on Monday. “If you make them remember you, it’s hard for them to get rid of you.”
Morgan needed only three catches to lead the Saints in yards receiving in New Orleans’ most recent preseason game against Tennessee. His 108-yard performance last Friday night included a diving, 52-yard reception and a 44-yard catch.
“It felt good to be able to go out there and show flashes of the old ability that I still have and actually be able to put it out there on film so everybody can see it,” Morgan said. “It was a major accomplishment.”
Morgan is in his fourth season as a pro, but because of injuries, has played only one season in the NFL.
He spent his rookie season on injured reserve because of a torn meniscus in his right knee. Fortunately for Morgan, that first injury setback didn’t come until after he’d demonstrated he had the speed, moves and instincts to periodically break off long gains.
In his first preseason game as a pro, he returned a punt 78 yards for a score against San Francisco. He played in one more preseason game that year in Houston, where he hauled in a 56-yard touchdown reception.
When he returned healthy, but still unproven, in 2012, he caught a 53-yard touchdown pass in a preseason game in Jacksonville, helping him earn his first — and only — regular season roster spot. He ended 2012 with 10 catches for 379 yards and three TDs, an average of nearly 38 yards per catch.
He then set his sights becoming a more complete receiver in 2013, to prove he could also be effective on short and intermediate routes, only to blow out his left knee in a training camp scrimmage.
While Morgan declined to get specific, he said damage to his knee went beyond an anterior cruciate ligament tear, and that his recovery was expected to take about a full year.
“To be at the point where I’m at right now, to be able to run around and have faith and trust in my knee right now is actually really good and speaks volumes for how much work I’ve been doing the past year,” Morgan said.
Morgan has not always distinguished himself during practice since training camp began in late July. On Monday, he did little that stood out beyond dropping a pass from quarterback Drew Brees over the middle.
Still, Saints coach Sean Payton has said it’s important to take note when players come through with big plays during games, exhibition or otherwise.
“It all factors in,” Payton said. “There are times in a game where it leads to confidence. In Joe’s case, that was a significant injury, and for him to be able to come out and execute and make some big plays will help his confidence.”
Currently, the Saints have 10 receivers on their training camp roster and may not keep more than five. Marques Colston, first-round draft choice Brandin Cooks and second-year pro Kenny Stills appear to hold the top three receiver spots for now. Veteran Robert Meachem and third-year pro Nick Toon are also trying to secure roles, while a pair of rookies — 6-foot-6 Brandon Coleman and 6-foot-3 Seantavious Jones — try to capitalize on their height advantages as they compete for jobs.
With that kind of competition, Morgan doesn’t see himself as a lock.
“I’m an undrafted guy so it’s always going to be a fight, a fight to make the team,” Morgan said. “I didn’t play last year and it was a blessing for them to be able sign me back and give me a chance to prove that I can come off of my injury. So basically I just got to go out there show them I’m capable of playing and hopefully it’s enough for me to make this team.”
NOTES: Cooks missed Monday’s practice. Payton said Cooks had stomach flu. ... Others missing practice included S Jairus Byrd and CB Keenan Lewis. Lewis had practiced on Sunday after leaving Friday night’s preseason game with an apparent injury. Payton declined to discuss specifics on Lewis’ condition.
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