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John DeShazier: Saints receiver Joe Morgan hoping his hard work pays off

Morgan is coming back from a serious knee injury

Joe Morgan's rookie year, 2011, is ancient history. His breakout season, 2012, is a fading memory.

All that he has to help him regain/retain a spot on the new Orleans Saints' regular-season roster is the "now." So Friday's breakaway performance against Tennessee at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – three catches for 108 yards, including 52- and 44-yarders – came at an ideal time for a receiver who still hasn't completely recovered from a significant knee injury suffered in training camp last year.

The Saints' receiving corps is deep and talented. Openings for the position are few, and precious, and Morgan, who's entering his fourth season, again is in the running to snag one.

"I'm an undrafted guy so it's always going to be a fight to make the team," he said. "I didn't play last year and I was blessed enough for them to sign me back and give me a chance to come out this year and prove that I can come off my injury. Basically, I've just got to go out there and show them that I'm capable of playing. Hopefully, that's enough for me to make this team.

"You want to separate yourself from other guys. If you're in a competition like I am, you want to do something that's going to make you stand out. In 2011, what made me stand out was my speed. Well, I've got to do more than just that.

"Everybody is going to be fast so I've got to do things that are going to help me stand out and make this team. My name has to show up, basically. If you make them remember you, it's hard for them to get rid of you."

That's how it was in 2011, when, in the preseason, Morgan caught two passes for 77 yards (including a 56-yard touchdown) and returned six punts for 107 yards (including a 78-yard touchdown) before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

The next year, he caught just 10 passes, but for 379 yards and three touchdowns. But before he could integrate himself into the gameplan even more, he injured his knee last year in the Black and Gold scrimmage and was forced to miss the season again.

That injury stalled his career and was more devastating than an ACL tear alone would have been.

"In the words of (Coach) Sean Payton, it was a 'knee,' " Morgan said, smiling. "I don't want to divulge too much on that. But it was a little more significant structural damage than just an ACL.

"It was one of those injuries where – some guys are coming off ACLs in, like, eight months. Well, my injury was one that it was going to be at least a year of rehab, if not more. So to be at the point where I am right now, to be able to run around and have faith and trust in my knee is really good and it speaks volumes for how much work I've been doing so far."

It also speaks volumes that he's doing what he is at less than full speed.

"I don't know that he's 100 percent, yet," Payton said. "He's getting close, obviously, and it's good to see. The type of rehab that he went through was pretty significant and yet, I'm sure there are still some gains for him physically.

"But that being said, he's mentally much further along than what he was a couple of years ago, with regard to what we're doing. He has worked on the other elements of his game, some of the route-specific things that he can improve on – his transition, the intermediate passing game, those are all things that I know he spent a lot of time on.

"But I still think these next couple of weeks for him, hopefully we'll continue to see the growth in the rehab and recovery. All the work that he has put in, hopefully we'll see that pay off."

Specifically, Morgan said he diligently has worked on mastering the route tree, the various routes that receivers run in the Saints offense. That added versatility makes his speed even more of a weapon. So the 12-yard catch that he made against the Titans – wary defensive backs gave him a sizable cushion on the short pass after having been burned on the two long ones – was just as important to his portfolio as were the deep throws.

"I felt good to be able to go out and show flashes of the old ability that I still have," Morgan said. "To actually put it out there on film, so everybody can see it, was a major accomplishment.

"I wouldn't call myself 100 percent at this point. But I'm getting there. I'm somewhere between 90 and 100, where I'm able to go out and run and not show anything wrong that's with me. I still know that there are things that are wrong that I still need to work on and I'm getting close to that point right now."

Photos from 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon on Monday, August 18, 2014. Photos taken by Matthew Sharpe (New Orleans Saints photos)

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