Preparation key to Morgan's fast start

August, 18, 2008
8/18/08
4:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

 
 Greg Trott/Getty Images
 Niners receiver Josh Morgan is doing his homework.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Niners receiver Josh Morgan, a sixth-round draft choice, highlights a short list of NFC West rookies making surprise impacts this summer.

Former Cal running back Justin Forsett, a seventh-round draft choice, broke out with 261 all-purpose yards for Seattle against the Bears on Saturday night. He could convince the Seahawks to keep six running backs. In Arizona, fifth-round choice Tim Hightower has performed well enough for the Cardinals to release veteran running back Marcel Shipp. The Rams haven't had a later-round pick break out to the same degree, although seventh-round linebacker Chris Chamberlain looks like a keeper.

Back to Morgan. Speaking with him today made it clearer why the former Virginia Tech receiver appears to have a very bright future in the league, possibly as a starter this season. Physical talent generally isn't enough for a rookie receiver to flourish. Morgan has plenty of that. He has dazzled veteran teammates with a 41-inch vertical leap during pickup basketball games, dunking off two feet from just inside the foul line. The physical part is there, but Morgan owes much of his success in 49ers camp to his ability to understand concepts.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz hands out a packet of formations and alignments for players to study each day. This is in addition to the full playbook, which players receive at the beginning of camp. "The daily install" is what Morgan called these packets. Each sheet includes a dozen diagrams per page. Martz might hand out six of these sheets in a packet. Morgan must know where to line up -- practically to the inch -- and where to run in each of these 72 situations. Memorizing each situation would bog down a player. Understanding concepts and terminology allows a player to react without thinking so much.

Morgan uses pink and yellow highlighting pens to emphasize important aspects of these diagrams. He'll write down something Martz or receivers coach Jerry Sullivan said, then highlight it for future reference. Sometimes it's simple stuff. "When motioning," one of the highlighted passages in the latest daily install reads, "square up to the hash." Morgan explains:

"You just write down everything they say and go home and study it. You try to go through what they gave you that night. They usually give you an install about every day. Then on the days you don't get an install, that is when you want to review everything else you have in the past. Everything comes up in this offense. Mike Martz will call something that hasn't been called since the OTAs and you have to remember."

Morgan caught five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers' most recent exhibition game. He has nine catches for 182 yards in two exhibition games. Only David Clowney of the Jets has more receiving yardage in the current exhibition season (222). Morgan is starting ahead of the injured Bryant Johnson. Expect him to play extensively this season.

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