NFL: Ex-Raider LB Morrison making immediate impact with Jaguars
By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Daryl Smith watched Kirk Morrison for years, admiring his game from afar.
Even though they spent the last five seasons on opposite coasts — Smith in Jacksonville and Morrison in Oakland — Smith kept a close eye on his fellow AFC linebacker. It seemed like every time Smith watched video of an opposing offense, Morrison was on the other side making plays.
Smith liked what he saw from Morrison then. He's been even more impressed now that they're teammates.
"He's already making plays and doing his thing," Smith said Monday as Jacksonville wrapped up a three-day minicamp. "He looks good out there, looks like he's gonna help us out a lot."
The Jaguars certainly could use a lift. General manager Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio overhauled the team's defense during free agency and the NFL draft. Of all the additions, which include veteran defensive end Aaron Kampman and first-round pick Tyson Alualu, Morrison is making the most immediate impact.
"He's a guy that's highly competitive, a guy that's got real pride in how he does things, a guy that's got energy and the leadership skills you've got to have at middle linebacker," position coach Mark Duffner said. "Our defense already has felt him both in his actions and his ability."
Jacksonville's linebacker corps mostly struggled in 2009, missing tackles, blowing coverages and communicating poorly. Morrison, who led the Raiders in tackles the last four years, should be able to help fix those problems.
Morrison, though, is focused on the big picture. He desperately wants to be on a winning team, something that eluded him in college and in his professional career.
"Being on a losing football team after a while, people say it doesn't get to you, but at times it does," Morrison said. "That's what we're all in this business to do. I came in on the short end of the stick a lot of times, so just going to a new place, a new beginning, a team that I feel like is just a good tradition of hard-nosed football, has been to the playoffs in the last couple of years, I couldn't be more excited."
Getting to the postseason would make it even better.
San Diego State went 17-30 during Morrison's four seasons and never had a winning record. His best year was 6-6 in 2003.
The Raiders drafted Morrison in the third round in 2005. Although he has played every game and finished each season with more than 100 tackles, Morrison never won more than five games in any year in Oakland. He endured a 2-14 mark in 2006.
Jacksonville, meanwhile, made the playoffs twice in that span.
"I want to feel that feeling," Morrison said. "I hate being home in January. You sit back and you watch football teams play and you feel like, 'That should be me. I think I can play better. If I could have done this better, if I could have done that ...' I don't want to second guess myself at all. I want to be playing football in January."
Del Rio already has gotten a sense of Morrison's frustration.
"He's definitely hungry," Del Rio said. "He's got a great mindset right now in terms of coming in here and wanting to soak up every bit of coaching he can. He's a take-charge guy in terms of addressing the huddle and communicating loud and clear — things that we've really been looking for. He's going to add there."
Jacksonville traded a fourth-round pick in exchange for Morrison and a fifth-rounder during last month's draft. Morrison had become expendable when the Raiders selected Alabama's Rolando McClain with the eighth overall pick.
For Morrison, it meant moving away from California for the first time in his life. But it also gave him a fresh start — and maybe a shot at a winning season.
"That's what it's all about," he said. "If you don't win football games, you get a lot of change, a lot of turnover. In Oakland, I had four head coaches in five years, and that's because you're not winning. ... If you don't win, things have to change regardless of players, coaches, people around the organization.
"That's what happens. And that's why I know what winning does. Winning makes you feel good, but also keeps a lot of people having jobs."