OXNARD, Calif. - New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joseph Morgan has become a training-camp darling after two long touchdowns in his first two NFL preseason games.
But in Morgan’s eyes, he’s only as good as his last practice.
Morgan eluded numerous defenders on a 78-yard punt return that went for a touchdown in the Saints’ preseason win over the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 12.
He followed that with a 56-yard TD catch from backup quarterback Chase Daniel in Saturday’s 27-14 loss to the Houston Texans, unleashing the same speed that attracted the attention of the Saints scouts this spring.
Yet, Morgan knows there is a lot more work to be done.
“If people saw how I did (in practice), I did terrible,” Morgan said after Tuesday’s practice. “I did bad. It’s one of those things that I have to get better at every day. I want to say it’s been successful so far, but I’ve got to do better.”
Morgan’s journey to the Saints is similar to the route followed by many undrafted rookie free agents.
In the past few seasons, running back Pierre Thomas, linebacker Jonathan Casillas and defensive end Junior Galette have earned roster spots even though they were not drafted.
Morgan began his career at Illinois, but transferred after some off-the-field issues and ended up at Walsh University, an NAIA school in Canton, Ohio, for his final two seasons.
Morgan finished his career at Walsh with 79 receptions for 1,317 yards and nine TDs, averaging a healthy 16.7 yards per catch. As a senior, he caught 41 passes for 653 yards and five scores.
The 6-foot-1, 184-pounder, a Canton native, said one of his coaches at Walsh had connections with the St. Louis Rams, and word quickly spread about the speedster.
“I set my expectations high,” Morgan said. “If I didn’t set my expectations high, I wouldn’t make the team. So all I’m trying to do is get better every day because there’s nothing written in stone. You’ve just got to come out and keep working hard every day.”
Morgan knows that he’s fighting for one or possibly two roster spots at wide receiver, considering Saints veterans like Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson have been entrenched for several seasons in Sean Payton’s offense.
For Morgan to make the 53-man roster, he’ll have to show he can help the Saints in a variety of ways.
“He’s young, he’s green, there’s a lot he’s working on, but he’s still explosive and you can see that,” Payton said. “He runs well and those are things that showed up right away in our first week, and yet there are still a number of little things, a lot of things that he’s working on to refine his game.
“But we’ve been pleased with his quick development and the explosiveness he brings in the return game and on the outside,” he said.
Payton said it’s fair to compare Morgan’s situation to the way wide receiver Rod Harper made the team two years ago.
Harper, a former Arena League star, had two punt returns for touchdowns in the 2009 preseason and stunned a lot of people when he earned a roster spot after the final cuts were made.
The Saints have a history of keeping players who make good impressions in training camp. Morgan is well on his way, but Payton warns there’s always more that can be done.
“Their job is to improve each day,” Payton said. “Their job is to make an impression.
“Their job is to help in the kicking game and if they can answer those questions, the first way to make the team is to contribute on special teams,” he said. “But if they can do that, then they’re pressing other players that can play that similar role.”