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An important time for Morris

cg1.bmp  The veteran took little for granted this off-season.  He didn’t approach drills casually.  Not that he ever did.  But for Rob Morris, his seventh off-season in the NFL had unusual importance for an experienced veteran.  Because in one sense, he’s not so experienced at all.  “There are a lot of things I have to learn,” Morris said to John Oehser of during the Colts’ recent four-week summer-school program, which concluded this past Wednesday at the team’s Training Facility in Indianapolis.

A learning curve for an eight-year veteran?   Although Morris, the Colts’ first-round selection in the 2000 NFL Draft, is one of the most familiar names and faces on the roster, and although he has started 74 NFL regular- and postseason games, he is in a very real sense, a second-year player.  At his new position, anyway.  Morris, after spending his entire career as a middle linebacker, moved late last season to the strong side, where he will enter training camp as the Colts’ starter.

“Really, for me, it’s not so much the meeting time and the walkthroughs, although those are good,” Morris said.  “For me, it’s being out there out on the field practicing full speed.  “That really helps me the most.”  But Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy and President Bill Polian each said after the season Morris’ play was, too.  “He really typifies what you preach as a coach,” Dungy said.  “You preach to give your best and be ready whenever the opportunity arises and really be a team player. Rob has done that.  Whatever job he has had, he’s done it very well and really led by example.  You can preach that as a coach, but to see it, that means more to the players when you can point and say, ‘This is what it’s all about.’ ”

Counting the seven games he played there last season, how many games has Morris played on the strong side?  Seven, he said with a laugh.  “Never played until last season,” said Morris, the second-most experienced player on the Colts’ defense behind defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland. “This is really my first time really practicing at this position.  “There are a lot of things I have to learn.  There are some things I’m pretty good at.  This is a good time to work on those things.”

Just how much Morris said he will still have to learn when the season begins, he said he’s not completely sure.  On the one hand, it’s a new position.  On the other hand, he said, he did play seven games there last season.  That approach, Morris said, helped him the past two seasons, which were at times difficult ones.  After starting four seasons, he moved into a backup role in 2005, developing into one of the team’s top special teams players.  It was a role he continued to play last season.  During those two seasons, Morris – who averaged 114 tackles from 2001-2004 – had a total of 63 tackles on defense.

Now, he is not only still with the Colts, with the off-season departure of cornerback Nick Harper, he became the only defensive player to predate the 2002 arrival of Dungy.  As for whether that’s a good or bad thing, Morris said he’s not sure, and neither is it something he goes around discussing much. But I would venture to say that it is a very good thing.

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