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Joseph Morgan’s big night against Titans was a long-time coming after tumultuous year

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan (13) beats Tennessee Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (24) for a long catch to set up a New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) touchdown during the second quarter Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD — New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan (13) beats Tennessee Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (24) for a long catch to set up a New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) touchdown during the second quarter Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

Offensive assistant Carter Sheridan weaved in and out of the crowd inside the Saints’ locker room minutes after the team had beaten the Titans 31-24 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday night and didn’t stop until he found wide receiver Joseph Morgan.

Morgan had just finished leading the Saints (2-0) with 108 yards on three catches — an astounding average of 36 yards per grab — in his first NFL game at the Superdome since 2012. Sheridan high-fived Morgan, leaned in for an embrace and told him, “You did yourself a favor tonight. You keep enjoying doing what you’re doing.”

Don’t mind if Morgan does. His outing Friday against Tennessee (1-1) and the quiet congratulations he earned from Sheridan vividly illustrate just how far Morgan has come in what for him has been a tumultuous 14+ months, which have seen him endure off-field legal problems, suffer a career-threatening injury — and persevere through both as he tries to reclaim his status as a tantalizing deep ball threat for the Saints.

That’s a status he earned in 2012, when he racked up a jaw-dropping 37.9 yards per catch and three touchdowns on just 10 receptions.

But then he endangered it with a Memorial Day weekend DWI arrest the following year. Bad became worse when he went to the Saints’ ensuing training camp and tore the meniscus and partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at an intrasquad scrimmage last August.

He spent the rest of the 2013 campaign recovering while the Saints’ passing game finished No. 2 in the NFL. It was the second complete season Morgan missed after a serious preseason knee injury sidelined him for all of 2011, when he joined the Saints as an undrafted free agent.

However, since then, Morgan has entered and been completing a diversion program to avoid prosecution in the DWI case. He’s patiently rehabbed his knee and more often than not been a full participant at 2014 training camp practices, which were at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia from July 24 to Wednesday but return to the Saints’ headquarters in Metairie on Sunday afternoon.

His diligence paid off Friday. With wide receivers Kenny Stills (quad) and Marques Colston (undisclosed) scratched, Morgan on a few occasions attracted attention from quarterbacks Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin, who are competing to be the understudy to Drew Brees (out with a strained oblique).

Morgan capitalized. With McCown calling the signals, he drew defensive pass interference on a first-and-20 from New Orleans’ 10 while being covered by Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, improving the Saints’ field position vastly.

He then roared past Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and dove around New Orleans’ 30 to catch a 45-yard throw from Griffin. Morgan got back on his feet and gained an extra seven yards before he was hauled down.

That play set up a score for running back Mark Ingram, who ran in a short Griffin pass from 23 yards out to help give New Orleans a 21-17 lead.

Morgan later slipped behind Sensabaugh again to catch a 44-yard throw from Griffin around the Tennessee 40, a play that meant the receiver at that moment was averaging an obscene 48 yards per grab. That number became slightly more reason when Griffin connected with Morgan for 12 yards and a first down — but it was still enough to push the receiver over the 100-yard barrier.

That all could go a very long way for Morgan as he jockeys for a roster spot at receiver under Colston, Stills and rookie first-round draft choice Brandin Cooks. His chief competition as of Friday included guys like Nick Toon, Robert Meachem (who on Friday dropped a pass in the end zone), Andy Tanner, Seantavius Jones (who caught a TD against the Titans) and Brandon Coleman.

“It was encouraging that he got behind the defense and was able to make a few plays that we’ve seen him make prior to his injury,” Payton said. “I think more than anything what is important for us in the evaluation process is how is he moving and tonight we saw him do a few things that were encouraging.”

No one was more encouraged Friday than Morgan himself.

“With any rehab process, you’re not allowed to just go from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye,” Morgan said to reporters afterward. “It’s been a long process, but right now it feels great.

“The hardest thing to do is make a team in the training room — the less time you spend in the training room, the better your chances to make the team.”

Note: Advocate correspondent Guerry Smith contributed to this report. This post has been updated since it was first published.

Sean Payton on Jimmy Graham dunking: ‘I’m very upset’

Maybe the first dunk was cute. After tight end Jimmy Graham stuffed the ball through the uprights a second time coach Sean Payton was livid.

“Yes, I was (upset),” Payton said. “I’m very upset. Would you be upset? I was, particularly.”

The so-called “Jimmy Graham rule” was put in place this offseason to prohibit players from using the goal posts as part of touchdown celebrations. But the 15-yard penalty that comes with doing throwing down a celebratory dunk wasn’t enough to prevent the New Orleans Saints tight end from punctuating both of his scores with his signature celebration.

Payton look displeased after Graham’s first dunk. It appeared he had words with him after the second.

Graham’s timing couldn’t have been worse.

By that point, Payton was boiling over due to the sloppy play exhibited by his team. The two flags Graham drew were only a small piece of the 22 overall penalties the Saints were called for during Friday’s 31-24 win over the Titans.

Flags seem to be up across the league at a stunning rate in preseason games, but Payton said the high volume Friday night was not the result of poor officiating. He felt that most, if not all, of the penalties were justified.

And the number of penalties left a particularly bad taste in Payton’s mouth since he spent the last week trying to clean up the sloppiness that popped up in last week’s preseason opener against the Rams.

“It is the first sign of a team that has no discipline and the first sign of poor coaching,” Payton said. “The first sign along with the quarterback-center exchange.”

Welcome to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome

SuperDomeFootball is back in New Orleans.

After spending the last three weeks holding training camp practices at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, New Orleans will get its first glimpse of the Saints during tonight’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.

QB WATCH: Drew Brees is expected to be sidelined tonight due to a left oblique strain. The feeling here is that Luke McCown will get the start this week, with Ryan Griffin coming on with the second-team offense. We’ll soon find out if that feeling is right.

INJURY REPORT: There are no injury reports during the preseason, but here is a list of players who have been battling injuries:

WR Kenny Stills (quad)
G Jahri Evans (undisclosed)
G Ben Grubbs (undisclosed)
DT John Jenkins (back)
LB David Hawthorne (undisclosed)
LB Victor Butler (undisclosed)
CB Patrick Robinson (undisclosed)
CB Champ Bailey (undisclosed)
CB Rod Sweeting (undisclosed)
TE Je’Ron Hamm (stringer)
FB Erik Lorig (leg)
S Ty Zimmerman (undisclosed)
T Ty Nsekhe (undisclosed)
QB Drew Brees (oblique)

SCOUTS: The Chiefs, Cowboys, Colts, Giants, Raiders, Chargers, Ravens, Steelers, Buccaneers, and four teams from the Canadian Football League have scouts in attendance.

 

Will McCown start if Brees is sidelined against Titans?

Those waiting to see Ryan Griffin work the starters may be left waiting for another week.

With New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees not expected to play due to a left oblique strain, tonight’s game against the Tennessee Titans could once again put the spotlight on the backup quarterback battle between Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin.

In last week’s preseason opener against the St. Louis Rams, McCown played the first few series before giving way to Griffin, who played the next two quarters.

The feeling here is that tonight’s game against the Titans will follow a similar script. If Brees does not play, the guess is that McCown will get the start and Griffin will take the field with the second-team offense.

Griffin opened the door a bit last week by completing 16-of-23 passes for 179 yards with a touchdown, but coach Sean Payton said he was also pleased with how McCown (7-for-10, 49 yards, one interception) performed in his limited time under center.

McCown has continued to work with the first-team offense with Brees sidelined during practices.

This will be a big week for Griffin. The Saints would likely prefer to carry only two quarterbacks this season. It would be advantageous if Griffin wins the role since he carries a lower cap number than McCown.

He can take a big step toward doing so with a strong performance tonight — especially since opportunities could be limited if and when Brees comes back.

Drew Brees among those questionable for Titans game

After being limited in practices this week, it would be a surprise if Drew Brees takes the field tonight at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Tennessee Titans.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback suffered a left oblique strain Aug. 1 and has not been a full participant in practice in the days since. Luke McCown started against the St. Louis Rams in the preseason opener, with Ryan Griffin playing most of the second and third quarters.

The team has not made an announcement on who will start tonight. Brees has not been officially ruled out, but it would be a surprise if he plays.

Since injury reports are not released during the preseason, here is a list of other players who could miss tonight’s game:

WR Kenny Stills (quad)
G Jahri Evans (undisclosed)
G Ben Grubbs (undisclosed)
DT John Jenkins (back)
LB David Hawthorne (undisclosed)
LB Victor Butler (undisclosed)
CB Patrick Robinson (undisclosed)
CB Champ Bailey (undisclosed)
CB Rod Sweeting (undisclosed)
TE Je’Ron Hamm (stringer)
FB Erik Lorig (leg)
S Ty Zimmerman (undisclosed)
T Ty Nsekhe (undisclosed)

Morning links: Turn your head?

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — We’ve reached the finish line in West Virginia.

Today marks the final day of practice for the Saints at The Greenbrier. It’s been fun and the weather has been great, but I think I speak for everyone when I say Team Advocate is ready to get back home.

Here’s the rundown of today’s stories:

- I wrote about some of the Saints’ coverage techniques and touched on the growth Stanley Jean-Baptiste has made.

-Ramon Antonio Vargas wrote about the return of John Jenkins.

-Gary Estwick’s notebook leads with an update on Tyrunn Walker. 

-Ted Lewis explores the power of No. 9. 

 

Drew Brees takes part in walkthrough

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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — Drew Brees took another step in his recovery by participating in Tuesday afternoon’s walkthrough.

The Saints quarterback, who has been battling a left oblique strain, stood under center and led the offense. The team opened the session by working in the red zone. Brees found tight end Benjamin Watson in the end zone on his first pass.

Brees wore pads during the morning practice but did not take part in the practice. He has been out since Aug. 1.

Drew Brees throw a pass at Tuesday's walkthrough. By Nick Underhill

Drew Brees throws a pass at Tuesday’s walkthrough. By Nick Underhill