Leg injury a tough break for both Morgan and 49ers
The news Monday was not good for Joshua Morgan or the 49ers. The starting wide receiver was scheduled to undergo surgery for a broken bone in his lower right leg and possibly could miss the rest of the season, putting a damper on the first-place Niners’ best start in nine seasons and leaving the team on the lookout for help at a position that already has been rocked by injuries this season.
“He’s going to have a procedure done and we’ll have a better idea after today,” coach Jim Harbaugh said during his afternoon news conference Monday.
Instead of basking in the glow of his team’s milestone 48-3 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Harbaugh spent much of Monday’s session discussing Morgan’s injury and what the Niners will do to make up for the loss of the team’s leader among wideouts in all receiving categories this season.
“It’s more serious than what I thought after the ball game yesterday,” Harbaugh said. “Josh is going to be out for an extended time – longer than we anticipated and longer than we hoped, longer than we can afford to have him out. I just feel sick for him and for our team. Josh (was) really coming into his own, caching his stride. Feel bad for him. Feel bad for us, because that’s a tough loss for us.”
Morgan, the only wide receiver to start all five of San Francisco’s games this season, leads all 49ers wideouts with 15 catches for 220 yards receiving. He is second on the team to tight end Vernon Davis in both categories.
Morgan, who led the 49ers with five receptions for 75 yards in Sunday’s blowouts, was hurt making his final reception with 4:20 to play, a 19-yard gain that took the ball to the Tampa Bay 1-yard line on San Francisco’s final touchdown drive. Morgan was injured while being dragged down by two Tampa Bay defenders just short of the goal line.
Morgan could be done for the season, depending on the severity of the injury and the outcome of surgery. There’s a possibility he could return later in the year.
“That’s a hope,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll have a better idea after today and tomorrow and assess the situation.”
With erstwhile starter Braylon Edwards out until at least the end of this month with a knee injury, the 49ers are down to three healthy receivers on their 53-man roster in Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr. and youngster Kyle Williams.
The 49ers have had four wide receivers active for each of their five games this season and will almost certainly look for a replacement on the roster for Morgan.
“I’m looking at it right now,” Harbaugh said. “Somebody’s got to come up to the 46(-man roster), which would make somebody have to come on to the 53 at that position. Best guess right now would be that we add somebody or we bring somebody up from the practice squad. That’s a job for us here in the next 24, 48 hours.”
The 49ers have undrafted rookie Joe Hastings and newcomer John Matthews on their practice squad. Matthews, who played in Harbaugh’s offense when both were at the University of San Diego, has spent time with the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2009. But he has seen action in just three games and has yet to catch a NFL pass.
“John will have a license to be that guy, (and) Joe Hasting,” Harbaugh said. “Then we’ll evaluate other guys, we’ll bring some guys in for a workout. We’ll make the assessment, what’s best for the team, like we always do.”
The emergence of Delanie Walker as a receiving hybrid tight end could soften the blow of Morgan’s loss. Walker, who caught his second touchdown pass of the season against the Bucs, likely will stay in his regular position but also could become an option to be split out wide and become even more involved in the San Francisco offense as a receiving target in multiple sets and alignments.
“(Walker) is that option and has been that option and has been fulfilling that role all season,” Harbaugh said. “You can even see it in the reaction that we get from opposing defenses when we go to two wide receivers, two tight ends, Delanie being one of those tight ends, the nickel personnel is coming on the field. Not every time, but a good amount of the time. Yes, we look at him as a tight end, receiver and blocker. He gives us great flexibility and that’s why we think so much of Delanie.”
But even with Walker in an expanded role, Morgan must be replaced on the roster until Edwards is ready to return. Harbaugh is comfortable with the talent and experience at receiver but not the depth at the position.
“It’s still thin,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve been dodging bullets, which you always try to do. You try to dodge bullets, and we didn’t dodge one on this occasion. Crab, and Teddy and Kyle Williams, we feel very good about where they’re at and excited, anticipating getting Braylon back. But I think best guess right now is another receiver is added to the 53.”