|Morris returns to Colts in a new spot, old role|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 15 August 2007 10:43|
It starts with his rookie year, when he held out, then suffered a season-ending injury. He was labeled a first-round bust, endured falling from starter to backup to special teams. When he became a free agent in 2006, he sensed nobody wanted him.
But Morris, now in his eighth season with the Indianapolis Colts, has relied on perseverance, knowledge and experience. He resurrected his career with a switch from middle linebacker to the strong side, where he will start for the defending Super Bowl champs.
Not bad for someone who seemed destined for the scrap heap 15 months ago.
``The difference has less to do with whether I'm the starter and more to do with me enjoying being out here, being around the guys,'' Morris said. ``Football, for me, has always been fun, and I'm having fun.''
Perhaps that's because the field has always been his escape from negativity.
When he was drafted in 2000, many observers expected Morris to achieve stardom like team president Bill Polian's two previous first-round picks - Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James - and become the foundation for a rebuilt defense.
Instead, a lengthy holdout stunted Morris' growth, he has since acknowledged. A ruptured quadriceps in his seventh game ended his rookie season before he ever made a start.
Things got worse. His first full season in the league, the Colts gave up the second-highest point total in franchise history. When Tony Dungy took over as coach in 2002, Morris didn't appear to fit the new defense, which relied on speed.
By 2005, he was supplanted as the starter by the unknown Gary Brackett.
But when the Colts needed a linebacker late last season, they turned again to Morris.
After allowing 375 yards rushing to Jacksonville, the coaching staff yanked Gilbert Gardner and inserted Morris into the starting lineup at strong side linebacker - ``Sam,'' in football parlance. He had never played the position in college or the NFL.
Morris found out about the move five days before the Dec. 18 game against the Bengals. Assistant coach Leslie Frazier asked Morris if he had talked to linebackers coach Mike Murphy, which he hadn't.
``I went in and Mike said 'We're putting in this new defense, and you're going to play Sam. And, by the way, you've got to learn the rest of Sam, too, because you're starting Monday night,''' Morris recalled.
The move changed everything, solidifying the weakest link in Indy's run defense.
The Colts limited Cincinnati to 133 yards rushing in a 34-16 win, and by the playoffs, they were rolling.
They shut down Kansas City's Larry Johnson and kept Baltimore out of the end zone. They held together long enough against New England to give the offense a chance to rally from a 21-6 halftime deficit. In the Super Bowl, they allowed only 11 first downs.
Many attributed the drastic difference to the return of former Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, who played in only four regular-season games. But Morris was an unsung hero.
``That's one thing people never realize, that it takes a lot of guys to win games or win championships,'' coach Tony Dungy said. ``Rob is one of those guys that does that for you. I think Rob really personifies what it means to be a winner.''
Morris said Wednesday he never really had time to settle into his new spot last year and wasn't even sure he was doing everything right. So he relied on the principles he'd learned about Dungy's defense.
``I had about a minute to get comfortable,'' he said. ``So for the first few games, I just played fast.''
When his contract came up again in March, Morris wasted little time in re-signing with the Colts so he had a full offseason to get acclimated to the new spot.
``It's great, I love it here,'' he said. ``I feel as comfortable here now as I did playing middle linebacker, and I just can't wait to get the season started.''