RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC) — Last season was supposed to be the best of receiver Josh Morgan’s career. After all, the Southeast Washington native had returned home in March 2012, signing a five-year contract with the Redskins that included $7.5 million in guaranteed money.
Morgan did lead the surprising NFC East champions with 48 catches, only four shy of his career-high. But that was because expected No. 1 receiver Pierre Garcon was absent or ailing for more than half the year. And Morgan averaged just 10.6 yards per catch, the second-fewest of his five seasons. He just wasn’t the same receiver who had averaged 15.9 yards per grab during his last full season in San Francisco.
But there was a reason. Make that nine reasons. That would be the seven screws that were still implanted in the right leg whose fracture had ended his 2011 season in Week 5 and the ligaments in his hands that he tore in Week 2 and Week 16, respectively, of 2012.
“I didn’t make a big deal about it because I don’t like to make a lot of excuses, but that wasn’t me last year,” Morgan said Wednesday after being forced from practice with what he termed a minor tweak to his right hamstring not long after making a spectacular leaping catch between defenders Bacarri Rambo and E.J. Biggers. “If I’m playing my game, I’m gaining a lot of yards after the catch. Last year, I was pretty much a possession receiver. It was real hard because I was back home and people were expecting a lot more from me. There were times if I wondered if I was hurting the team or helping the team.”
The Redskins didn’t wonder about that.
“Josh is exceptionally tough,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “He did an unbelievable job just being able to go out there and compete. Any time you have screws in your ankle … it’s going to bother your running with the ball in your hands.”
Or as Garcon said, “We haven’t seen the real Josh yet.”
Whatever attention hasn’t been focused this spring and summer on the recovery of franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III from knee surgery has projected Washington’s offense to be improved from last year’s fifth-ranked unit because of the return to health of Garcon and tight end Fred Davis, who missed the final nine games with a torn Achilles. While Morgan played in every game, those who’ve had to cover him know that he, too, can be a difference-maker now that he’ll be back at full strength following the surgeries to remove the screws and repair the ligaments.
“I’ve hated checking Josh ever since he was at VTech,” said Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson, who faced Morgan when his Maryland Terps faced the latter’s Virginia Tech Hokies and when he was with Seattle in the NFC West. “When you’re playing the run, he blocks like he’s going to throw you in the stands. It was tough watching him out there not at 100 percent last year. Now, he’s able to plant more. He’s breaking a little quicker. He’s definitely a little more dynamic with the screws out.”
DeAngelo Hall’s only duel with Morgan also left an impression.
“He was a [beast],” Hall recalled about their 2008 matchup. “That’s why when we got him, I was excited. But when we got on the field last year, I was like, ‘That doesn’t like the same Josh.’ You could tell he was coming off an injury. Now he looks a lot better. He’s beaten me a couple of times. He’s a big receiver that can run and wants to be physical. He knows the offense. He’s dangerous.”
That description made the soft-spoken Morgan smile. Of course, he has been doing a lot of that now that he’s back to his old self for the first time since he broke his leg nearly 22 months ago.
“I feel 100 percent better,” Morgan said, barely acknowledging his newly-injured hamstring. “All my coaches notice the difference. I always have a smile on my face.”
If the 28-year-old Morgan, whose left arm sports tattoos of D.C.’s flag, area code and initials as well as the Capitol Dome, keeps smiling all season, then his happy homecoming will have happened after all, just a year late.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin