For most NFL veterans, making it through a three-day minicamp is no big deal. For Dan Morgan, however, surviving the
Carolina Panthers' three days of on-field workouts over the weekend represents a positive head start for 2007.
The six-year veteran middle linebacker, sidelined for all but one game last season because of a concussion suffered on opening day, wasn't certain when he would be back on the field. In fact, some people around the league, including a few employed by the Panthers, questioned whether Morgan would play again.
Not surprisingly, Morgan, 28, wasn't among the skeptics.
"Walking away," Morgan said, "never even occurred to me. Not at all. Not for a minute."
The head injury suffered in a lopsided loss to the Atlanta Falcons last Sept. 10 was the fifth documented concussion of Morgan's professional career. It has been speculated that Morgan has sustained as many as eight or nine concussions.
In the minicamp, of course, Morgan didn't have to hit anyone. The bigger story was that, while he wasn't causing headaches for ball carriers or receivers during the non-contact drills, neither was Morgan suffering through headaches himself, either.
He hasn't experienced any significant problems since being cleared to resume play. And he is convinced the concussion problems are behind him.
"I'm really putting it in the past," Morgan said of his concussion problem. "Really, I don't even want to talk about it. I want to move on. I want to get on with my football career, and just go out and play and have some fun."
When he is healthy and having fun, Morgan, one of the fastest middle linebackers in the NFL and an active defender who can stay on the field for all three downs, can be a terror. In his 55 starts, Morgan has averaged more than eight tackles, and in Carolina's loss in Super Bowl XXXVIII, he registered a remarkable 25 tackles against the New England Patriots.
The problem is that Morgan has never played an entire 16-game season and, because of injuries, has missed 40 contests in six seasons. That's nearly seven games per season and, while that troublesome average is skewed by the fact Morgan appeared in just one game in 2006, it's still true he has never started more than 13 games in a campaign.
Even before last season, and a concussion that was clearly the worst Morgan has sustained in the NFL, he had averaged five games missed per season because of injuries. In addition to the concussions, Morgan has been sidelined by shoulder, ankle and leg injuries. Morgan was so frustrated by the injuries he brought a hyperbaric chamber to training camp last summer to help his body recover after practices.
But the only recovery for the latest concussion was rest and time away from the game. The forced absence was difficult for Morgan, which is why the weekend minicamp was such a boost for him.
"Obviously, when you've had [multiple] concussions, they say you are more susceptible," Morgan said. "But I've had a whole year off. I've had a lot of time to recover. I feel better than I ever have."
Despite all the injuries, the former University of Miami star has compiled 432 tackles, seven sacks, five interceptions, 17 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and six recoveries.
"When he's on his game, he's one of the best, no doubt about it," said former linebacker colleague Will Witherspoon, a standout weakside player for the Panthers and now starting at middle linebacker for the St. Louis Rams.
In part to provide themselves a safety net in the event Morgan has any setbacks, the Panthers used the 25th overall choice in the first round on Jon Beason, another former University of Miami star middle 'backer. Morgan will serve as mentor for his fellow Hurricanes alum, who can also play outside linebacker, but he isn't of a mind to surrender his job to him.
Certainly not after returning to the field and knocking off some of the cobwebs over the weekend.
"Not only have I recovered from the concussion, but my shoulder feels great and my whole body feels great," Morgan said. "I look forward to coming back and having a great year."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.