Most of the other Jackets trudged the two blocks from their practice field to the locker room, but Derrick Morgan, the splendid defensive end, rolled up in an SUV. A young woman had happened by and had offered Morgan and two Georgia Tech teammates a lift, and they weren’t inclined to say no.
“In the nick of time,” Morgan said, smiling. “That walk after practice feels long.”
What this tells us: Derrick Morgan is a pragmatist. He’s not one to traffic, so to speak, in posturing. Why walk when you can ride? Why jump up and down shouting, “Hey, look at us,” when you figure your team has the wherewithal to make people notice yet again?
Some Tech folks were disappointed the Jackets weren’t ranked higher than No. 15 in the coaches’ and Associated Press preseason poll. Morgan wasn’t among them. “I didn’t think we’d be that high,” he said. “We were embarrassed by LSU [in the Chick-fil-A Bowl]. I was expecting us to be lower.”
This isn’t to say Morgan expects Tech to underperform in Year 2 under Paul Johnson. “We want to win the ACC championship,” Morgan said, “and then we have to take it to the next level: We want to win a bowl game. We haven’t won one of those in I-don’t-know-how-long.” [Tech's last postseason victory: Dec. 21, 2004, over Syracuse in the Champs Sports Bowl.]
Morgan plays defense, but he also sees Tech’s stylized offense every day. A visitor posits the semi-popular notion that opponents will be better able to stop Johnson’s spread option in 2009 because they had a look at it in 2008. A valid point?
“Uh, no — just to be blunt,” Morgan said. “Seeing it can’t get you ready for everything. And how long are you really going to have to prepare for it? A week at the most.”
Morgan remembers the first time his defense went against the first-team offense in spring practice 2008: “We didn’t know what hit us. We knew what it looked like, but we saw its potential unleashed.”
And what’s it like to face that offense? “Not fun. You have to be really cognizant of cutback blocks and the blind side. You have to be really assignment-sound.”
As for Tech’s D: Much has been made over Morgan’s missing linemates — Michael Johnson, Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, all drafted by NFL teams — but it must be noted that the Jackets return a starter at every other defensive spot. It must also be noted that Morgan, whom Tech insiders considered the best of the linemen, believes he has improved.
“I was looking at some tape of last year,” he said, “and I think I’m a lot better now. I know there’s more attention on me, but we’ve still got a great defensive line.”
So, if you’re planning to categorize Tech as a one-year wonder, you won’t find a willing audience wearing No. 91. “I would not agree with that,” Morgan said, smiling again. He also said this: “With the type of talent we have, we can compete with the best teams in the country. Our goal is to win every game.”
And this, remember, is a pragmatist speaking, not some dewy-eyed dreamer. But before we leave Derrick Morgan, we must present his one blue-sky dream. That long slog from the practice field? He sees a workaround.
“We need one of those things they have in airports,” he said. “A moving sidewalk.”
At last check, there are a few engineers on campus. Get moving, people!