Tight end was not a position of need at the time because they had Kyle Rudolph, MyCole Pruitt (fifth-round pick in 2015), Rhett Ellison working his way back into the lineup and they also signed Brian Leonhardt as a free agent during the offseason. Still, the coaches saw something they liked in Morgan and felt it was too good of a pick to pass up.
He has been one of the more impressive rookies so far through the team’s offseason workouts, and not just because of his blocking, which was the primary reason the Vikings selected him. He has been impressing people with his ability to catch the ball and run routes.
“He’s got good hands. He runs good routes. He gets open. He’s got a little slither to him,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. “That part I didn’t know about.’’
But Morgan is a little surprised that people are impressed with the way he has performed as a pass catcher because he feels he’s always been good at that. He played wide receiver in high school, so he has a good understanding of running routes and catching the ball.
Even though the rookie tight end has been impressive up to this point, there are still some things he needs to work on. He still needs to clean up on some of his blocking techniques and get used to playing in the NFL as a whole. His offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, could tell that things may have gotten a little intense for him when the team traveled to Cincinnati for joint practices with the Bengals.
“The great thing about being in Cincinnati, the first practice against Cincinnati, he really struggled, and it was a game environment,” Turner said. “His eyes were big, and it was new to him. Obviously, the next day, he practiced better, and he played well in the game.”
Turner went on to explain that the improvement Morgan made from the first joint practice up to the game is the type of things coaches want to see. How quickly can a player adapt to a change and how well can they handle adversity? The first joint practice may have been a little more than he expected, but the rookie was able to bounce back quickly and have a good game.
“So, as a coach, that’s what you’re looking for, and we always say, ‘When you get in the game, was it too big for him?’ Well, that Wednesday practice, it was real big for him, and then Thursday, not as bad and then the game, he handled it very well,” Turner explained.
Morgan loved the fact that he was finally able to run out onto an NFL field and play in a game, even if it was only the preseason. It’s something that he has been dreaming about for a long time and he was just happy to be there.
“That was a dream come true,” he said. “It’s something that you obviously dream about since you were a kid, so it felt good to get that first one under your belt.”
Not only did Morgan get to play in the first game, but he played well and even got a few reps in with the first-team offense. One play that stood out was in the team’s second drive of the game. The Vikings were backed up to their own 2-yard line and things were not looking good.
The Vikings tried to run the ball to the left, away from Morgan, but the Bengals got great penetration on that side. Running back Jerick McKinnon ran into a wall back in the end zone, but was able to bounce it back to the right where Morgan and offensive tackle Andre Smith sealed the back end and gave him room to run.
“Me and Smith were on the backside and it was one of those blocks where it was me and him for the D-end and the safety,” Morgan said when remembering the play. “It was set up by his block and I just didn’t quit on the play. He was still working, so I was still working and we were just running the guy. (McKinnon) made a good cut in the backfield, got out of a sticky situation and got a good positive gain.”
It’s still unclear how much playing time Morgan is going to receive once the regular season rolls around and Ellison is added to the starting lineup, but it’s becoming clear that the coaches are going to look for ways to utilize his strengths. He has been getting reps with the first-team offense in practice and in games, mostly in two- or three-tight end sets.
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The rookie isn’t too worried about what his role is going to be, though. He’s just going out every day and hoping to do whatever the coaches ask of him.
“I’m just doing my job, whatever it is; special teams, offense, in the backfield, whatever it is,” he explained. “I’m ready for it.”