The Tennessee Titans did not necessarily think Derrick Morgan was head and shoulders above the other defensive ends drafted at about the same time.
The head of the defensive end out of Georgia Tech – particularly his approach to playing – was familiar, though, and that was a big part of his appeal. Morgan proved throughout three seasons, the last two as a starter, that he is a relentless competitor, much like Kyle Vanden Bosch, the Titans’ top player at that position over the past four seasons.
Then the fact that Tennessee got him with the 16th overall pick, after two other defensive ends went in the preceding three picks, put a chip on his shoulder reminiscent of the one Jevon Kearse brought with him when the Titans selected him 16th overall back in 1999.
“It is a huge chip on my shoulder,” Morgan said, “and the teams that didn’t pick me are going to see that.”
Kearse made a similar claim shortly after he was drafted. That fall he set the NFL record for sacks by a rookie and was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
No one was willing to predict the same level of success for Morgan, the 2009 ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-American, but the Titans certainly did not share in his disappointment that he slid s far as he did in.
“We talked about there were three (defensive ends) that were close,” general Mike Reinfeldt said. “He is a talented individual. … We think that he fits what we do well, so this is a good thing for the Titans.”
Morgan played three years of college football and was a starter for the final 27 games of his career.
It is the way he played those games that separated him from many others in the minds of Tennessee’s talent evaluators, however.
“Just a steady player that gives you all he’s got every time the ball is snapped,” scout Cole Proctor said. “I saw him play twice in two years and of course practices and pro days and combine and all that stuff. He is the same every time you see him. I have never seen him let down and have a bad game.”
That’s the same attitude that defined Vanden Bosch’s tenure with the Titans, which ended last month when he signed as a free agent with the Detroit Lions.
Initially, Vanden Bosch infuriated teammates who did not believe he could maintain the intensity he showed in practice throughout an entire season. Of course, he did … and he took that approach with him all the way to the Pro Bowl following the 2005 and 2007 seasons.
“I don’t think you will ever match a Vanden Bosch motor, but (Morgan) will come close,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He does it because that is the way he plays and he has been doing it for years. He has made a lot of plays because of that with tackles for losses and sacks. He has been very impressive.”
Morgan had 12.5 sacks in 2009, which was the most in the ACC and eighth in the nation. He also had 29.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
A native of Coatesville, Pa., he could not attribute his style of play to any one thing or one time in his life.
“Since Day One, the coaches I have had have always told me to go 110 percent every play,” he said. “That is the kind of attitude I bring to the game. … I think I’m always trying to get after it and trying to make a play, so I think that is really what has helped me.”
Angry young man
Kearse was fueled throughout his rookie season by the anger he felt after having lasted longer than he believed he should have before finally being drafted.
The biggest question most had about Kearse was exactly what position he would play. Some felt he was too small to be a defensive end and others felt he was too big to be a linebacker.
He started every game for the Titans as a rookie, finished fourth on the team with 85 tackles and had 14.5 sacks.
That is not an issue with Morgan, who is so well-suited to the defensive end spot that he can play on the right and left side with equal aplomb.
“You will find not only players that are draft eligible, but players that have been in the league for years that struggle flipping sides,” Fisher said. “He doesn’t. He is very, very talented.”
Some might even call him a “Freak.” In fact, that’s exactly the word his Georgia Tech teammates often used to describe him. It, of course, is that same word that fans at LP Field used to chant in honor of Kearse.
“It happened for a reason,” Morgan said. “I did think I was the best defensive end in the class, but Tennessee is a great situation for me.
“I want to make an immediate impact. I don’t want to take a backseat to anybody. I want to jump right in and get in the mix of things.”