Morgan moving up

The maturation of Josh Morgan took a quantum leap during Friday's exhibition opener against the Oakland Raiders. But, while a game-high four receptions represented his coming out party before an expanded audience, Morgan's development from sixth-round draft pick to immediate contributor actually has been a steady progression since the day he arrived as a 49er back in May.

Morgan may have opened some eyes by displaying the smooth moves and assurance of a veteran receiver while picking up 68 yards on those four catches and showing sticky hands and precise route-running, but it's actually something he has been doing regularly the past two weeks since training camp began in July.

It says a lot about Morgan's quick progress that he was tabbed to start Friday's game, even though he was listed fourth on the team's depth chart at split end entering the game. But a recent hamstring injury to projected starter Bryant Johnson, along with the prolonged injury issues of Ashley Lelie, allowed Morgan to shoot ahead into the starting lineup.

Morgan also started ahead of Jason Hill, a third-round draft pick from 2007, another name listed above Morgan on the depth chart. Then, Morgan proceeded to go out and out-play all of San Francisco's receivers.

One of San Francisco's offensive bright spots during the game, Morgan complained afterward that he still has a lot to learn. But as he showed Friday, he already has learned plenty.

Using his robust 6-foot, 215-pound frame to shield himself from defenders, Morgan showed the ability to run exact timing routes and find holes in the defense, then positioned himself amid defenders so that only he had a chance at the football. Morgan also displayed quick breaks and good explosion, something that is accentuated by his 4.47-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

Morgan said he has come a long way since his first weeks with the team, when he showed up in May at San Francisco's spring minicamp feeling just a little bit lost.

"I didn't know what to do in minicamp," Morgan said. "It was very overwhelming. I was out there thinking about what to do instead of just doing it. It motivated me a lot and just made me stay real humble and continue to work hard."

It also led him to seek the advice of veteran Isaac Bruce, the prolific veteran who also joined the 49ers during the offseason. Bruce has taken Morgan under his wing, and the youngster has been soaking it up.

"Yeah, I talk to Isaac a lot," Morgan said. "If Isaac Bruce is standing right beside you, you're going to ask him something. He's been in the league half of my life. So I've been picking his brain. He tells me something every day.

"He told me that when he came into his first minicamp, he didn't get a full understanding of it until the eighth game of the season. He saw that I was very overwhelmed in the minicamp, and he just told me to take my time and I was going to get it. He told me I was good and keep going over my plays and keep my focus. So that's all I do is study, study, study."

And make plays. That's something Morgan has been doing since his college days at Virginia Tech, where he finished as the second-leading receiver in school history with 122 career catches. Morgan averaged a healthy 14.9 yards on those receptions and scored 16 touchdowns. He also displayed production and promise as a kick returner.

But when draft weekend came around, Morgan slipped into the sixth round while 24 other receivers were selected ahead of him. Even one of his teammates last year at Tech went ahead of him, Eddie Royal, who was selected by Denver in the second round.

Morgan faced questions about his focus and consistency entering the draft, and he also felt an off-field incident contributed to his draft slide. Morgan was arrested in September of his junior season at Tech on charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing justice, an incident Morgan described as "a big misunderstanding."

And that would certainly seem to be the case for those acquainted with Morgan, who has displayed respectfulness and amiability in his discussions with 49ers beat writers.

But he's also a youngster with something to prove.

"I definitely feel like I can contribute a lot and help this team become a better team," Morgan said. "I feel like I'm a good blocker, I feel that I'm going to get it, I feel like I can run faster when I need to, I can be physical when I need to. If I would say anything, I would say that I'm an all-around receiver. I feel as though I can bring a lot of qualities and contribute in a lot of different ways."

Observers already are counting the ways. And Morgan is counting on showing all those teams that passed him over in the draft what they are missing.

"I definitely think I'm a better receiver than a lot of guys that went ahead of me," Morgan said. "I just have to wait for my time so I can go out there and show it."

Just half a month into his first training camp with the 49ers, that time already has come.


Niners Digest Top Stories