Boclair: Morgan won't match Kearse's start; Titans hope same for finish

Monday, October 11, 2010 at 11:45pm

The painful lesson from Derrick Morgan’s knee injury is that history never truly repeats itself, no matter how much fans, coaches, players or personnel directors
want it to be so.

Of course, now that the 2010 first-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech is on injured reserve and guaranteed to miss the remainder of the season, the Titans actually have to hope that history does not repeat itself.

To many, Morgan was the second coming of Jevon Kearse.

Like Kearse, Morgan fell to the Titans at a time when they had the 16th overall pick and were in desperate need of a pass-rushing defensive end. Like Kearse, he felt slighted because he was drafted so late and came into the league with a chip on his shoulder.

Kearse, of course, took the league by storm in 1999, when he set the NFL’s record for sacks by a rookie with 14.5 (that mark still stands). He was the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowl selection and — in many ways — a catalyst who helped propel the team to the Super Bowl following three straight 8-8 campaigns.

Morgan played fewer than four games as a rookie before he was sidelined by a major injury (a torn knee ligament). He did have 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks, which was respectable but hardly revolutionary.

Kearse was equally dynamic during his second season — before things took a turn.

In the opening game of the 2001 season, he leapt over a pile of players and landed in obvious pain. A broken foot limited him to just four games that season, and in the seven years that followed, he played all 16 games of a season just once.

In short, Kearse never was the same after his injury. If he wasn’t at 100 percent, he might as well have been at 25 percent.

Now, with no hope that Morgan will make the Pro Bowl or win any awards this season, the Kearse comparisons can end
for good.

The timing of Morgan’s injury was such that — as coach Jeff Fisher optimistically noted — his rehabilitation ought to be complete well before the start of the 2011 season, so he’ll be able to participate in offseason training and conditioning. Unless he’s like Kearse and never completely gets back to the player he was.

While we’re at it, we might as well bring up Andre Woolfolk, the only other Titans first-rounder in recent memory whose rookie season was cut way short. The cornerback from Oklahoma, who was the 28th overall choice in 2003, spent the final seven games of that season on injured reserve with an ankle injury and ultimately was the least productive first-round choice the franchise has had in Tennessee.

No one wants that.

Of course, someone who ought to know, defensive line coach Jim Washburn, said that all the Morgan-Kearse talk was nonsense from the outset, that Morgan’s gifts are distinctly different from Kearse’s, and that — as rookies — they were completely different players.

Assuming that’s the case, that’s good for the Titans. It means there’s every reason to believe that Derrick Morgan won’t just come back from this knee injury, but that he’ll eventually be a much better player, which certainly would distinguish him from Kearse.