WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – Joe Morgan sprinted downfield on an out pattern and caught a deep pass from Drew Brees in stride.
It's still the early days of the New Orleans Saints' training camp, but the two have looked in sync, which fellow Saints see as a promising sign.
"Joe Morgan looked fast and healthy," the defensive end Cam Jordan said. "We know what he can do when he's healthy."
The Saints are well aware of Morgan's potential. That's why they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Walsh College in 2011.
A promising rookie preseason was cut short by torn cartilage in his knee, which landed him on injured reserve. So it wasn't until 2012 that he provided a glimpse of what he could do. He had 379 yards receiving on just 10 catches, three of them for touchdowns.
The Saints were eager to see if Morgan could build on that until he tore knee ligaments on a hit by safety Kenny Vaccaro during an intrasquad scrimmage last August.
After spending two of his first three seasons on injured reserve, he is back in training camp for his fourth pro season, and doesn't appear to have lost the speed that made him a big-play threat in the only season he's played.
"It's a blessing," Morgan said. "I hate letting people down, especially good people like the fans that we have. It's always motivation to just work harder."
Head coach Sean Payton calls Morgan's recovery remarkable.
Morgan's "progress from when we finished in the spring until today has been significant," Payton said. "When we broke after the minicamp and we kind of went over the injury report. ... There's a handful of guys you are anxious to see their progress in the next five weeks prior to the start of camp ... and Joe particularly has recovered well.
"The knee injury he had was significant," Payton continued. "So to see him out here and to see him (do well) with the conditioning tests, it takes a full year (to recover from) the knee injury that he had, and then some."
Morgan concedes he doesn't feel 100 percent yet, but the chance to be on the field and competing is driving him.
"I'm close," he said. "I would say I'm like 85 or 90 right now. The thing that I'm doing is trying to transition from doing a lot of the rehab and stuff on my own to more on-field stuff so I can get a legitimate look and see how my knee reacts."
The lost time makes this an important camp for Morgan. The receiving corps is crowded.
Veteran Marques Colston still stands out as the top wideout and veteran Robert Meachem returned from San Diego last season. Kenny Stills is looking to build on his promising rookie season, but has been slowed by a right quad injury early in camp.
"There's a battle. Coach Payton even said himself that there's an open spot, so if a guy wants it he's got to go out and get it," Morgan said.
Nick Toon has also been impressive, and first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks made his presence known immediately with a leaping catch of a deep ball from Brees at the 2-yard line on Friday.
Brees said he sees "nothing but great things" for the rookie out of Oregon State.
"Here's a guy who is extremely talented, but more so than that is very intelligent," Brees said. "You get this feeling that he wants to be great. He loves football. He wants to learn; he's a sponge. He comes up to me, eyes wide, and says 'Just feed me. Feed me information.' And then he absorbs it very quickly and he is able to apply it."
Morgan and Cooks also worked on punt returns, a position Payton says will be important to sort out before the Saints' season opener Sept. 7 at division rival Atlanta.
The silver lining in getting hurt, as Morgan sees it, is that he was able to learn more about his craft through film study and observation.
Morgan explained that when I first started practicing again, he wasn't able to reach his usual top speed, so he worked on "little stuff, like the top of my route, pumping my arms, and keeping my feet moving, just trying to transition better."
"This is, I guess, a blessing in disguise."
AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL