- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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RICHMOND, Va. -- As the pass arrived, two defenders, neither more than several yards away, closed in on Josh Morgan. The same scenario last year produced a quick collision and little, if any, yards after the catch. This time, Morgan caught the ball, planted quickly and dashed upfield for seven more yards.
A subtle, yet potentially meaningful play. There’s no way, Morgan said, that he would have made that cut last year when playing with seven screws in his ankle.
“Not at all,” Morgan said.
But the screws are removed and his surgery to repair a broken bone in his lower right leg happened nearly two years ago. The Redskins are hoping that translates into more explosion and more yards after the catch. He won’t be transformed into a world class sprinter, but the Redskins hope he can do more of what he did with San Francisco before his injury in October 2011.
“Last year he could hardly cut,” Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. “You could see that. He wanted to compete, but he really had a hard time getting in and out of breaks. We kept waiting for him to improve and it didn’t. But he played through it and played hurt and played tough. Now you can see much improvement in his ability to cut.”
Last season, the first with his hometown Redskins, Morgan averaged 4.9 yards after the catch, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Some of that stemmed from the style of routes, featuring inside routes over the middle with little room to maneuver. But some of that was a result of someone who couldn’t create more separation. In his last 59 catches with San Francisco, Morgan averaged 6.4 yards after the catch.
“It was very frustrating,” Morgan said of his 2012 season. “You play a lot of mental games with yourself but you look at the bigger picture. Every day you’re out there getting a chance to work at your dream job and you do it in front of your city and family and friends.”
The coaches gave him pep talks on occasion because Morgan was not producing the way he wanted. They reminded him that if he were able to produce a team-best 48 receptions and 510 yards (but no games with more than 62 yards) with all those screws in his ankle -- not to mention tearing ligaments in both hands. Morgan's blocking also earned praise, a key component of the outside zone running game used by the Redskins.
Teammates knew he was dealing with pain all season as well.
"Josh is a strong-handed guy and physical receiver," Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. "He showed he could run when it was time to run and he showed he could snatch the ball out of the air. He could catch a BB in the dark. I could tell he was dealing with [the leg] but when it came time to play he didn't show he was favoring it. ... I can tell he's freer now and not favoring it."
Morgan still has the residue of his ankle injury in the form of scar tissue, but said most of the stiffness in his ankle is gone. Now Morgan wants to prove he has more explosiveness after his 2011 injury which left doctors pessimistic.
“[Doctors] basically told me I might be done because of where it is and the severity of the injury,” Morgan said. “They said it will never be the same.
“But I feel good. I’m almost back.”