Morgan Trent, the incumbent nickel cornerback in a suddenly high stakes game in the Bengals secondary, is going to be hearing it from his position coach.
Kevin Coyle didn’t know until Friday that Trent is already the subject of a book despite having played in just 16 NFL games.
“I’ll have to get an autographed copy,” Coyle says.
He can Saturday if he gets over to Borders at Northgate Mall between 1 to 4:30 p.m. Trent and Bobby Deren, the author of Draft Season, are having another signing session to promote the book that chronicles Trent and three other mid-rounders from the class of 2009 during the four months leading up to the draft.
If Deren, who covers college football for Rivals.com, hadn’t grown weary of the pro game’s business side, there is another book waiting in Trent’s 2010. Call it Watch Out, with the Bengals drafting a cornerback in the third round in Wake Forest’s Brandon Ghee and signing a former West Virginia cornerback once taken with the sixth pick named Adam Jones.
Subtitled, Welcome to the NFL, Kid.
Trent, taken in the sixth round out of Michigan, has no illusions. Those were all busted in last year’s draft.
“Part of you wants to know what is happening, but that’s just football,” Trent says. “It will be interesting, but I don’t think it’s all that surprising. I think there’s always pressure in this league. We have to continue to compete. Very few people in the NFL have guaranteed jobs.”
If it sounds like Morgan is bright, competitive and realistic, now you know why Deren made him one of his subjects after meeting him at TEST Sports, a facility near Deren’s home in South Jersey that trains prospects for the NFL Scouting Combine.
“Morgan is just a well-grounded guy,” Deren says. “That’s the way he was at the beginning and after the draft. I was looking for guys who had different personalities and different backgrounds.”
Deren lined up Trent with South Carolina wide receiver Kenny McKinley, Florida Atlantic middle linebacker Frantz Joseph, and Nebraska tackle Lydon Murtha.
Not exactly Carson Palmer, Tim Tebow, Michael Oher and Sam Bradford. But Deren wasn’t shooting for glitz. He wanted grit and he got it with the inexorable wait of Draft Day being the best part of the book.
Other highlights: McKinley dealing with Senior Bowl politics when he had to leave early in the week with a tight hamstring, and Morgan finding out the awful words from his college head coach that he uttered to scouts before the draft.
The first guy taken was McKinley in the fifth round by Denver. Then Trent to the Bengals in the sixth and Murtha in the seventh by Detroit. Joseph didn’t get picked at all.
“The anxiety is what stood out to me,” Deren says. “I think not having the high-profile guys, the first-rounders gives a dynamic to it that would have been missing. At the end of it, Morgan was just wishing it was over. It’s a very draining process mentally and physically.”
Morgan is happy with the way the book came out. He should be. He’s portrayed positively, but the process is not.
“What was really hard for me was coming into the draft after being on a team with a bad record,” he says of the worst record in Michigan history. “No. 1 was having the scouts and coaches wonder if you could play. Why did we win only three games? That was a bad deal.”
Morgan isn’t fazed at all about being in a book and that’s one thing that isn’t a surprise after watching him play for a year. He’s mature, poised, polished, the product of big-time Michigan, and a solid two-parent home that has already celebrated his first anniversary with wife Liz. He wowed the Bengals in the rookie camp before breaking his foot and missing all of the spring workouts, but he came back quicker than expected and arrived at training camp in marvelous shape.
By the time safety Roy Williams broke his forearm in the week leading up to the fourth game, the Bengals felt good enough to put Trent in the slot and move Chris Crocker back to safety on third down.
Trent turned out to be the most productive rookie of the four. Joseph ended up playing in Canada after getting cut by the Raiders. McKinley caught three balls for the Broncos in eight games, and Murtha played one game for the Dolphins after they plucked him from the Lions practice squad.
“I thought he had a solid year,” Coyle says. “What really impressed us is how he came back in shape after the injury. You’re looking at a guy with all the NFL tools. The guy bench-pressed (225 pounds) 23 times, he runs well (a 4.35 at the combine) and he’s got the size you’re looking for (6-1, 195) and he’s a great kid. Really grounded. When you look at our assessment of him before the draft, we had him as a third-rounder.”
That’s about where Trent thought he would go. The Bengals didn’t do it because with two first-rounders in Johnathan Joseph and Trent’s old Michigan teammate, Leon Hall, manning the corners, they had other pressing needs and they went bang-bang down the most wanted list:
Their two picks in the third round were pass-rusher Michael Johnson and tight end Chase Coffman. A center, Jonathan Luigs, went in the fourth, and a punter, Kevin Huber, went in the fifth. When the dust cleared after the Bengals finished the assault on their holes, Trent was still there with that third-round grade early in the sixth round.
At the end of the book, Deren describes the scene with Lloyd Carr, the former Michigan head coach that recruited Trent to Ann Arbor, breaking the news to Trent that current head coach Rich Rodriguez did him no favors.
“Rodriguez had bad-mouthed him to every NFL scout he could,” Deren writes. “Rodriguez claimed that Morgan was lazy, he had an attitude problem and he was a big reason the Wolverines finished with a 3-9 record…”
Trent admits the words were “jarring,” and they were hard to understand given that he was so serious about his career that he actually moved in with his brother and sister-in-law and their two small children while going to Michigan.
But Trent was also worried about what Carr thought about his words showing up in the book. He talks to him, not Rodriguez.
“I really like Coach Carr. He’s been very good to me,” Morgan says. “I think at first he was wondering, but I let him know it didn’t put him in a bad light. I would never do something like that to Lloyd. He’s great.”
Coyle heard the rumblings, but he didn’t talk to Rodriguez and put more stock in other people close to the Michigan program that had been there before.
“When there is a coaching transition and the team ends up not having success, you have to step back and try to decipher what the truth really is,” Coyle says. “There was a lot of heat on those people and there was some pointing of blame. Plus, the players were somewhat chagrined, so you had to look at everything.”
Coyle had a big edge. He coached Trent at the Senior Bowl and not only was Trent impressed with him two months before he was drafted (“He’s not really a screamer and he seemed like he really cared,” Trent says in the book), but the feeling was mutual. Coyle spent a week with him and was sold on his solid personality and physical prowess.
Coyle never heard the words of Rodriguez until later and it wouldn’t have mattered.
“I guess it was motivation,” Morgan says of the words that Deren estimates may have cost him $1 million. “(I) want to show people it was all false.”
Consider it done.
With Trent on the field, the Bengals were a remarkable 21-for-25 stopping the Ravens and Steelers on third down in back to-back wins in November. It will be recalled in Pittsburgh his tipped pass led to a Frostee Rucker interception (an hour later Marvin Lewis called it the most important series of the year opening the second half) and he later tipped away a pass headed to wide receiver Santonio Holmes that had touchdown written all over it in a six-point win.
But Trent also knows what happened the next week in Oakland. With the Bengals one snap away from a win on fourth-and-10, Raiders receiver Chaz Schilens caught a 16-yarder on Morgan over the middle to the Bengals 29 with 41 seconds left. One snap later, receiver Louis Murphy beat Trent one-on-one for the winning touchdown.
“I was over the top of him when I shouldn’t have been,” said Morgan of the touchdown. “The first one we were in an under coverage and I almost got my hand on it. That just shows you. A little sooner I knock it away and we win.”
Coyle: “It’s part of being a rookie and growing up in the league. It happens to everybody. I can point out other games he was knocking down key plays on third down. Cleveland for one. I think he’s got a bright future.”
Deren may be a little naïve when it comes to the NFL in the book. He raises too much of a protest when a team calls Trent late in the draft and mentions he may not be drafted and they are considering him as a free agent. That’s not inappropriate. That’s business. If he didn’t get drafted, he would have been very happy with the call.
But it is that different pair of eyes looking at the league that allows Deren to offer a fresh perspective on the process when he contrasts the flesh-and-blood emotions of the four players against the canned, banal quotes from NFL coaches and scouts and it makes you think when he comes away with the sense that players are treated like property.
Trent says the business end of it doesn’t get him down. He says the Bengals have a family feel and from what he understands from veterans that have been around, “it is one of the best locker rooms in the league,” he adds.
He has no qualms about welcoming his two newest competitors in Ghee and Jones. He says the locker room will be OK when the controversial Jones arrives.
“I think it will be fine,” Trent says. “Look at a guy like Matt Jones. He was supped to have problems but we’ve welcomed him and he’s been great."
After this week’s signings, author and player go their separate ways. But the best chapter may just be starting.
“It will be interesting” Trent says. “Everybody in the locker room is just excited to get back to playing.”